Suntans-Tanning Beds

Q.What can be done to prevent sun poisoning? I am 50 and this is the first time I have ever had it. I am fair complected.

A.Sun poisoning is a slang term describing a sunburn or a sun sensitivity. Sun sensitivity can occur from internal conditions such as lupus or external circumstances such as medications. There are many reasons people react adversely to sun exposure. This is a situation where you have to sit down with your dermatologist and go over possible causes. Sometimes a biopsy or blood work is necessary. Regardless of the cause, sun protection clothing and sun screen/block are essential.


Q.When I have been out in the sun I get a lot of small spots across my chest. Do you know why this happens and what can I use to prevent this?

A.Sun spots are sun damage. Make sure none of the pigmented areas are dangerous. You should review the ABC's of melanoma or see your dermatologist.

Go back to the basics of skin care. At a minimum, use sun protection with sun protective clothing or sunblock/sunscreen. To lighten the darker areas, bleaching agents can be used twice daily.

Finally, I do like topical vitamin C in the morning and retinol in the evening for daily sun-damaged skin maintenance.


Q.Is there any link between tanning in a tanning bed and skin cancer? If so, is it as risky as tanning with the natural sun?

A.With over 100,000 tanning beds and sunlamps in public use, approximately ten percent of the American population uses or has used indoor tanning facilities. Despite the recent emphasis on sun education, many people feel that healthy skin is achieved with a dark tan. Subsequently, indoor tanning in the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry. With our increasing knowledge of ultraviolet radiation (UVA/UVB), we know that tanning bed radiation (intense UVA) can be as damaging as outdoor ultraviolet sunlight. The tan achieved by sunlight is different than artificial darkening from a tanning bed. UVA and UVB have different effects on the skin, producing different types of tan. A natural tan (UVA/UVB sunlight) stimulates pigment cells called melanocytes to release a pigment called melanin into the skin. Pigment is released in various stages. For example, a person gets red after a day at the beach. The tan occurs gradually and is evident a few days later.

An artificial tan (UVA only) does not produce a staged release of pigment. The pigment released is within hours of exposure. Because of this variance in pigmentation, an artificial tan does not provide adequate protection from natural sunlight. It's estimated that 25 to 30 minutes in a tanning salon is equivalent to a full day of ultraviolet sun exposure. Remember, a suntan is sun damage regardless of how it is achieved.

Self-tanners effectively darken the skin without the risk of sun damage. These products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which bind to the upper keratin layers of the skin. When using a self-tanner, a person must first shower and rub or loofah the skin. This removes dead skin cells and permits even pigmentation.

Remember: Self-tanners do not prevent sunburn unless they also include a sunscreen. Sun protection should be used on a daily basis.