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Tanning and Skin safety with the planet in mind

4 min read

It’s official. Winter is over, and summer is well on its way. With temperatures soaring and many of us taking to parks and beaches to catch a tan, zoom screens across the country are once again populated with pink faces and over-sunned smiles. But with the return of the sunshine, it’s important to remind ourselves about sun exposure and the risks associated with it.

We all know by now that too much sun is bad for us. According to the FDA, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tan. The increase in skin pigment called ‘melanin’ which causes the change in colour is actually skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.

So why are we so hooked? Research suggests that spending time in the sun can be highly addictive. According to a study, long term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light could be flooding our systems with endorphins, giving us a sun-induced high. In a recent survey, seven out of ten respondents said they sunbathed to get a tan and over a third stated that tanning boosted their confidence.

It’s so important to feel confident in our skin. We know there are risks to tanning, but for many of us, it helps us feel great inside and out. We want to make sure you approach tanning with your skin and the planet in mind. Here’s a quick guide to skin safety so you are armed with the facts to give your skin as much protection as possible.

What is UV and how dangerous is it?

There are two types of UV (ultra-violet) radiation associated with an increased risk of skin cancer: Ultraviolet A (UVA), which has a longer wavelength and accounts for up to 95% of UV radiation, penetrates the inner layer of the skin (the dermis) and leads to skin ageing. Ultraviolet B (UVB), which has a shorter wavelength and mainly affects the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), leads to skin burning.

Exposure to UVA and UVB without sunscreen protection damages the DNA in skin cells, producing genetic defects, or mutations, that can lead to skin cancer, as well as premature ageing. Whenever your unprotected skin is exposed to UV rays you're at risk of sunburn.

Sunscreen: What to look for and what to avoid

When it comes to sunscreen you need to protect your skin from both types of UV rays. That means buying a sunscreen with enough SPF to protect against UVB and a good UVA star rating.

The general recommendation for sensible sun protection even during Spring and Autumn or in cloudy weather is a sunscreen with a 30+ SPF rating. For those extra sunny summer days, an SPF of 50 can mean added protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Look for UVA and UVB protection and ideally a 4-5 star rating. It’s also advisable to help reduce the risk of sunburn by applying sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going outside, with reapplication every 2 hours or immediately after exercise or swimming.

Whilst some cosmetic products now include SPF protection of around 15, they are not sufficient enough to provide proper protection against harmful UV rays year-round. Consider adding an SPF and 4-5 UVB starred product to your daily routine to make sure your skin is protected.

“Whilst it is encouraging to see many mainstream cosmetic brands placing UV filters in their face and body products, consumers shouldn't rely entirely on these alone to provide them with sun protection" - Matthew Patey of SHA & PCP

Sunscreen for different skin tones

It doesn’t matter whether you are fair or dark in skin tone, all skin needs to be properly protected from the sun. Whilst it is true that people with darker skin tones take longer to burn on account of having a natural SPF (sun protective factor) of around 13, the protective power of melanin is generally vastly overstated. We are all susceptible to sun-induced damage, so wearing a daily sunscreen of SPF 30+ is advisable. But not all sunscreens are created equal. Many sunscreens can leave behind a white cast on deeper tones which can be off putting for many sunscreen users. Harper’s Bazaar has put together this fantastic list of black-owned and tried and tested sunscreens for darker skin tones.

Sunscreen: Kind to people, Kind to the planet?

Another thing to consider when choosing your sunscreen is the other ingredients in your sun protection products. Whilst sunscreens may do a good job of protecting you from the harmful effects of the sun, they could be harmful in and of themselves. You still need to consider the overall quality of the products you use to ensure they’re actually good for your skin health and good for the environment. Some sunscreen ingredients may be linked to birth defects in infants and could react with pool chemicals like chlorine to create genotoxic compounds like chloroform.

When it comes to sunscreen, the ingredients in our protective products can enter the waterways and our oceans. Chemicals in these products can affect marine life in a number of ways from coral bleaching to inducing defects in marine life. For an in-depth look into sunscreen and potentially harmful ingredients, take a look at this extremely informative article by Healthline.

All in all, tanning with your skin and the planet in mind can be a challenge. What might be best for protection from harmful rays may be damaging elsewhere. For the best skin protection, it’s best to find a sunscreen with a high SPF and 4-5 star UVB rating and keep an eye out for ingredients that could be detrimental to the environment and marine life. If you want to find out more about Skin Health Alliance or Pure Choice Partnership accreditation or how we can help you communicate your science, get in touch.