Who doesn't want a gorgeous tan in the summer? Even those amongst us that eschew the sun for it's skindamaging powers, secretly wish we could be tan! Being tan makes us look good, healthy even. People LOVE to be tan. Period.
After all, indoor tanning is a $4.9 billion dollar industry for goodness sake. In comparison, the domestic US market for sunscreen is worth $680 million. Yep, people LOVE to be tan. Nevermind that dastardly risk of skin cancer and that half of us will have it at least once by the time we’re 65. WE. MUST. BE. TAN!!
So because we love you and your malpighian layer (more on that in a minute) we are going to tell you everything you need to know about tanning. You’ll thank us later. We know it.
But first a little info about your skin. Let’s make this as simple as possible.
You all know that skin is made up of layers. The skin you show the world is called the epidermis and it has two main layers, the inner which is living and the outer which is dead.
This is where your malpighian (pronounced mal-PIDgeon) layer comes in. The malpighian is the living layer and it’s where all the action happens. It contains cells called melanocytes which produce melanin and that's the pigment responsible for your tan (or the lack of pigment responsible for albinism on the other end of the spectrum). And as it happens, when these cells get damaged by UV radiation and they are repeatedly exposed they can mutate and cause melanoma. That’s skin cancer, for those of you that are living under some big ol' rock.
The dead, outer layer is called the stratum corneum. It’s this layer that people see as your skin. The cells in this layer are filled with keratin which is the same tough stuff that makes up fingernails (and horns, if you have them ;) It’s keratin that makes the bottom of your feet get so tough after traipsing around barefoot all summer. (Ok pause here for shameless but necessary plug: Do ya now see why you need to be scrubbin’ on a regular basis?? You don’t want to grow horns do you?!)
Now let’s throw the sun into this. Sunlight contains both UVA (think wrinkles) and UVB (think sun damage) rays. UV light stimulates melanocytes to produce melanin. Melanin absorbs the UV radiation, so it protects cells from UV damage. But producing melanin takes some time, which is why you can’t get a safe tan in one day. You have to expose yourself to UV light for a short period of time to stimulate the melanocytes. They will continue to produce more melanin and as the pigment builds up in your body (TAN!) OVER THE COURSE OF 5-7 DAYS it will reach a level that is protective. You see, my friends, your tan, if done right, actually PROTECTS you from sun damage. Melanin is your naturally produced sunscreen. (Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation also, which is why they work or not depending on how often you apply them)
However, if you don’t produce enough melanin (blondes and redheads) and you spend too much time in the sun, OR you spend too much time in the sun and your body can't get a high enough level of melanin established OR you’re not wearing a sunscreen, you get a sunburn, which is just a cute way of saying “cellular damage from UV radiation” which is a not-so-cute way of saying precursor to skin cancer.
Just like tan is the result of the pigment melanin building up in the skin, sunburn is the result of blood rushing to the sight of injured skin cells to try to help them out. Makes you think about that lobster look a little differently huh?
So let us debunk the biggest and most ridiculous of all tanningmyths right here and now: SUNBURN DOES NOT “TURN INTO TAN”. The only thing sunburn turns into is skin damage.
So can you get a healthy tan? Yes, you sure can if you have the ability to produce enough melanin (which is determined by your genetics, sorry you fair flowers out there). Just limit your sun exposure and realize that tanning happens gradually over 5-7 days NOT hours. Alternatively, you can use a safe sunscreen which can be hard to find especially for those of us with senstive skin. (We like the one from John Masters Organics - not cheap, but worth it in our humble opinions) The moral of the story: be nice to your malpighian layer and it will be nice to you :)
Tan safely, scrub often and always stay smooth!