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Is there such a thing as a healthy tan?

We diagnose and treat skin cancer on the face and around the eyes, but you can avoid skin cancer with preventative measures aimed at protecting your skin.
Sunburn is one of the leading causes of melanoma, particularly sunburn as a young adult or teenager. Sunburn is more likely to happen if you are outside during water sports or beach activities, having a barbeque, in shorts, gardening or just going for a long hill walk. If you play tennis, you are particularly at risk of skin cancers because it is not easy to wear a hat, your body is not particularly covered up, and because you can sweat a lot, any applied sun cream may not stay where you put it.
Do not forget that sunburn can also occur on what appears to be a chilly overcast day when people think that the UV radiation is not high, but it is. UVB causes the sunburn but at the same time UVA is getting to the skin, and it is the UVA which is causing the skin cancer. You do not have to burn to get skin cancers because the UVA can damage the skin cells and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. It has a cumulative effect on the skin cells. Evidence shows that regular and cumulative exposure to UV radiation year after year can lead to skin cancer. It is not a matter of just having extra sun one year, and then you go back to square one and start again. If the cells have already received some sun damage, they then carry on getting further damage.

You can protect yourself and prevent skin cancer

Most of us think that a good suntan means that we are healthy and well and many of us use the term ‘a healthy tan’. Unfortunately, this is misguided as a suntan is a sign that you had too much UV radiation. Eventually, a tan leads to elasticity loss with wrinkles, sagging, yellow discolouration and even brown patches on your skin. It also increases your risk of skin cancer. While the tan is present the skin is slightly oedematous, and it can indeed look healthy and plumped up, but once you are out of the sun and the tan is settling, it then just dries out and can look quite wrinkly. Tanning damage is a cumulative effect which does not recover because the DNA that is actually in the skin has been damaged as well the elastin collagen fibres.
Many people think tans protect them from UV. This is a complex area as people who tan well often have a good layer of pigment which may not be hyperactive and may not be damaged. In general terms, a good healthy tan does not exist and is both ageing the skin and putting it at skin cancer risk.
Lastly, solariums emit both UVA and UVB radiation. Both forms of UV light can cause cancer, and therefore solarium use for any cosmetic tanning is not encouraged. Some patients have skin conditions for which they do require UV treatment, but you should only do this under the guidance of a dermatologist.
These warnings all sounds very dismal, but actually, you can be healthy in the sun wearing a hat, sun glasses and SPF50 covering UVA and UVB such as by La Roche Posay, Avene or Heliocare. You should see a dermatologist, who is a doctor specialising in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases if there are any patches of skin which are changing or with which you are concerned. Dr Jennifer Crawley is the Consultant Dermatologist at Clinica London.

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