Sun Exposure & Tanning


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Melanin, which is responsible for skin colour, protects us from the sun. The more melanin you have, that is the darker your skin, the better the protection from the sun’s rays. If the skin gets damaged from too much sun then the body makes more melanin.  This helps to repair the damage and gives further protection. This is why, when you spend time in the sun, your skin will tan as well as burn. This sun tan takes around 3 days to be seen.

Who gets a tan?

If you have very light skin you are much more likely to burn than you are to tan. If you have a more “Mediterranean” complexion, then you are much more likely to tan than burn. If you have dark or black skin then you should not burn and may tan only slightly.

Benefits and problems with tanning

Some exposure to the sun is good because it gives you vitamin D which is important for keeping bones healthy. However, too much sun can be very bad as it can cause sunburn and the risk of eventually developing skin cancer.

People with dark skin have a high concentration of the chemical melanin which will protect against damage from sunlight and therefore skin cancer. If you have light skin then you are around 10 times more likely to get skin cancer than someone with dark skin if you receive the same amount of sun light.

How to get a tan

As well as being in the sun and using sunbeds, there are many tanning methods that do not use the sun.  These are effective and much safer, as they don’t have the risk of sunburn or skin cancer.

A spray tan can be used to create tanned skin appearance. These sprays contain colourless chemicals that burn the dead cells in the top layer of your skin. This creates a tanned effect.

There are also many creams, gels and sprays that can be used at home and applied directly to the skin to create a tanned look. Cosmetics such as bronzers are useful to provide a quick and temporary tanned effect.

Melanotan is an injection used to create a tan. Tanning injections are illegal in the UK and the long term side effects are unknown. It is feared that they could induce skin cancer. There are also many short term side effects of melanotan injections such as feelings of depression, feeling less hungry, feeling sick, a rise in blood pressure, flushing and even panic attacks.

In order to avoid becoming sunburnt whilst sunbathing, you should wear sunscreen as well as suitable protective clothing.


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