Peer pressure being as strong as it is in the teenage years, a lot of adolescent girls and boys may want to head outdoors as the weather heats up and get a suntan. But with all that we now know about excessive sun exposure and skin cancers, some fans of tanning may opt instead to use tanning beds to achieve a golden glow.
But are tanning beds any safer? Scientific opinion runs the gamut.
Some health authorities believe that tanning beds are a safer method of tanning than prolonged exposure to sunshine. Tanning beds emit mostly the UVA rays that tan, while eliminating UVB rays that burn.
However, other experts believe that tanning beds are in fact more dangerous than sunshine, which has both UVA and UVB wavelengths: recent research has shown that both UVA and UVB rays may be harmful.
A 2012 study from Yale University showed that young people who used tanning beds regularly had a 69 percent increased risk of getting basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.
Other studies have shown that tanning beds increase the risk for melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. The cancer risk goes up with the number of years that the person has used a tanning bed.
We can readily see the damage that excessive sun or tanning beds can do to a person’s skin when the skin has been tanned for years and years. Far from looking healthier, the person’s skin tends to look dry, wrinkled and prematurely aged.
Tanning beds are out — or at least, they should be. But this isn’t to say that someone should avoid the sun completely. And you don’t always want to use sunscreen, either.
As most of us know, sunlight is an excellent way to get the body to manufacture its own vitamin D. Sunscreens reduce the body’s production of vitamin D by close to one hundred percent!
Vitamin D is an extremely versatile substance that the body uses for many functions, including the absorption of the mineral calcium, which is used by all the body’s cells.
Vitamin D is vital for cardiovascular health, it regulates cholesterol and blood pressure, it helps strengthen the immune system, and it’s important for healthy and strong bones, teeth and hair.
And whereas D supplements may accumulate in the blood and can take months to be lowered to normal levels, the body has the miraculous ability to know when it’s made enough vitamin D from sunshine, and it automatically shuts off vitamin D production!
The body produces the most active form of vitamin D, which is D3, or calciferol. This is the most useful kind of vitamin D for the body’s bones and other tissues.
Clearly, sunshine is very good for us and one of the best ways, or the best way, to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
Production of vitamin D is only one important reason to avoid sunscreen lotions. Another reason is that nearly all sunscreens sold in the United States have a lot of artificial chemicals that themselves have been linked to cancer when used a lot.
Even most “natural” sunscreens in fact contain a lot of unnatural chemicals.
If your teenager will be using sunscreen, look for one that has all-natural ingredients (the active sun protection ingredients can be titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which are both natural minerals that reflect and scatter the sun’s UV rays). Other ingredients will be plant extracts, and natural skin nutrients and moisturizers. Also, look for a sunscreen that has broad-spectrum UV protection, meaning that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
By and large, however, your teen should be able to limit her or his sun exposure by simply limiting time spent in the sun, or by wearing protective clothing, including wide hats and long sleeves. It doesn’t take but a few minutes of sunshine for the skin to make enough vitamin D to meet the body’s needs. If your child is particularly fair-skinned, they will want to be extra careful not to stay out in the sun too long when not using sunscreen and they are not wearing protective clothing.
Another important thing that you as a parent can do is point out to your child that healthy, hydrated skin is beautiful, no matter the color. A little daily sun will gradually and safely deepen a person’s skin tone, while promoting good health in many ways. As for spending hours in the sun daily without any protection, or in a tanning bed, the risks are simply too great. And you need to impress upon your child that in the end, while deep tans may look attractive, they will certainly not keep the skin itself looking attractive in the long run, and may lead to serious health complications.
By Jamell Andrews