Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Anti-Tan the Same as Anti-Sun?

Whenever I read an article about anti-tanning legislation on a local news website, the “comments” section is filled with those opposed to such a ban.  They cite that government should not dictate parental rights (yet we have age restrictions on cigarettes and alcohol as well as many others).  Some mention that tanning beds provide valuable Vitamin D to a population that’s seriously deficient (it doesn’t).  Whatever the argument, I typically write it off as the person being misinformed.  I sometimes offer up a response, but I’ve also learned that once someone has an opinion, it’s pretty difficult to change it. 

However, there’s one misconception I see over and over that just floors me.  “Anti-tanners want to ban sunshine!”  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Sure, one can get an unhealthy dose of UV radiation from the sunshine, but one needs to understand the difference between exposure in a tanning bed versus exposure under the sun.

As you probably know, there are two types of UV rays emitted by the sun.  UVA rays go deeper into the skin and typically don’t burn.  They cause the inner skin to darken or tan.  They also cause the skin to age more quickly (UVA –UV Aging) and cause DNA damage.  UVB affects the surface if the skin more and causes sun burns (UVB – UV Burning).

Your body is an amazing thing.  When there is danger, it has a way of warning you.  If you touch something that’s hot, your skin feel s pain and you instantly pull away your hand.  But what if you couldn’t feel that pain?

Imagine going to a dentist and you have your mouth numbed with Novocain.  Before you leave, the dentist warns you not to drink anything hot or to bite your lip.  He issues this warning because he knows that while you can’t feel the pain, you can damage your lips or mouth. 

Your body has a natural mechanism to protect itself from too much sun exposure.  When UVB rays from natural sunshine start to burn the skin, the body announces that it’s time to seek shade.  Without those UVB rays, the body has no way of detecting when it’s time to get out of the sun.  That’s where the danger lays in tanning beds versus sunshine. 

There are no UVB rays in most tanning beds, so your body won’t get burnt.  However, the UVA rays still penetrate your skin and cause serious damage.  In fact, the amount of UVA radiation from the bed may actually be many times more intense than from natural sunlight!  When you leave the tanning salon, you won’t feel the pain or the burn, but the damage will be there.  It’s like drinking scalding hot coffee with a numb mouth…you won’t feel the pain, but the damage has taken place.

This is not to say that the sun is entirely safe, but this doesn’t mean that we fear the sun and expect it to be shunned.  What we do is respect the sun. 

Those who have been adversely affected by the sun (whether it be from melanoma or aged skin) have every right to fear the sun.  But for many, they’ve learned to respect it rather than fear it.  They have learned that it’s important to wear sunscreen when enjoying the sun’s warmth.  They know it’s best to seek shade between 10AM and 4PM when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.  They know that wearing a hat provides additional protection.  Believe it or not, they enjoy the sun very much.  They embrace the sun.  They also know the limits in which to enjoy and learned to respect it.

So are those opposed to tanning in beds also opposed to the sun?  No.  In fact, we encourage you to enjoy the sun, but to be safe within in.  Just realize that a tanning bed offers much different dangers from the sun and they should indeed be avoided.  Tanning beds are NOT the sun…not at all.

Sources:  American Cancer Society, Skin Cancer Foundation, Melanoma Research Foundation, and plain ol' common sense!


  1. Love this post! I am not anti-sun, but I do fear I come off that way at times because of my personal fear of the sun, due to melanoma. I am actually trying to take baby steps to respecting the sun as opposed to fearing it. It's been 9 months since my diagnosis, and I am really struggling with it personally. I am sure taking baby steps will make me happier, as well as help me to send a positive message about protecting your skin. I was actually thinking about posting about this soon. :) Thanks so much!

  2. Good one, there are people who don't have exact about the tan effects , so i guess i reading the post i got a basic information about how it works on skin. so think before you go for tan. thanks for sharing

    CTCA Philadelphia

  3. I have to admit that since my diagnosis I've been unsure about how to deal with my friend, the sun. Sometimes I feel paranoid to the point of neurosis about watching out for any exposure at all, but I realize that isn't a healthy attitude to keep up. But my diagnosis was in the fall of 2011, and I'm still young at 27, and I figure I have time to do some soul-searching (or sun-searching, I guess?) and adopt a new sun policy. I used to love the ocean when I was a kid, and I still do, although I don't get to go very often. So I'm concerned about having to wear a full scuba suit every time I hit the beach. Anyone else feel like this?

  4. I tried to comment on this the other day, but the internet ate it! Anyways, I always love reading your posts, but when I read this one in particular I kept wanting to jump up and down and say, YES, SO TRUE! I think you really nailed it with this one. I'm going on vacation later this week and I'm definitely struggling with the whole sun/tan thing.