Healthy Tanning

Elan B. Singer, MD
Article by
Manhattan Plastic Surgeon

Is there such a thing as safe-sun? How dangerous is a tanning salon? And how about those color-changing chemicals in tanning creams? Summer is here, so we teamed up with Dr. Elan Singer to find out the safest way to get your glow!

The UV Difference:
Ultraviolet (UV) rays exist in two forms: UVA and UVB. The longer wavelength (UVA) rays penetrate deeper into the skin, causing skin cancers and early aging. The shorter wavelength (UVB) rays affect the skin's surface, leading to those all too-familiar sunburns. The jury is still out when it comes to which form of UV light is more dangerous (UVA vs. UVB), but there is no dispute that both are indeed harmful. It's important to know that the sun and tanning beds emit both!

Tanning Beds
Doctors Orders: Stay Away!
Because people generally equate sunburns with increased risk of skin cancer, tanning bed manufacturers tout low UVB output. So while you are less likely to burn in a tanning bed, you're still exposed to harmful UVA rays. These get you tan, but also increase your risk of early aging and the development of skin cancers. While highly treatable, some skin cancers are very dangerous, most notably, melanoma.

Summer Substitute: Spray It On!
If you're dying to tan indoors, there is only one way to go: spray it on! Most tanning salons now offer spray tan machines like the "Mystic Tan". These are fully automated so you don't have to stand in front of a person and bare it all. Instead, the machines have video instructions of how to properly stand in the machine. Start with a light shade so you don't end up like Anne Hathaway in Bride Wars!

The Sun
Doctors Orders: Soak It Up In Moderation!
Sun damage is less likely to cause you harm, but it is also nearly impossible to effectively treat. Chronic exposure to UV rays will result in permanent deterioration of skin quality, period. Sure, you can lather up with anti-oxidant creams and go for regular Botox treatments, but these modalities are band-aids and will not reverse the tremendous damage that chronic UV exposure has on your skin. So should you sit in a dark room all summer staring at your pale skin? Absolutely not, sun exposure is extremely important, both for our mental well-being and our physical well-being, specifically with regard to Vitamin D, which among other things, helps make our bones stronger.

Slather on the Sunscreen: SPF 50 is the New SPF 15
A higher SPF won't stop your tan but it will prevent burns. If you're going to spend a day in the sun at the park or beach, don't mess around! Use an SPF 50 (or above), and look for a sunscreen with physical sun blockers like Parsol and Oxybenzone to help protect against UVA rays, because SPF only blocks the UVB rays. Great UVB blockers contain Homosalate, Octocrylene and Octisalate. We love Kiehls Super Fluid UV Defense SPF 50+ because it contains all five sun filters in a light, absorbable, non greasy formula. For everyday commuting to the office, a two-in-one sunscreen and moisturizer is your best bet. Try Philosophy's Hope Oil-Free Moisturizer with SPF 30. This lightweight formula provides sun-savvy protection and a nice matte finish. Another good bet is La Roche-Posay Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizing Cream. This two-in-one combats dehydration, while shielding skin with Mexoryl SX, one of the most powerful UVA blockers around. If you want something with a little color in it, try a tinted moisturizer with SPF. Amber's absolute favorite is SkinTint by CoverFX. It provides a sheer coverage that won't streak and run in the summer heat, AND it comes in SPF 30.

Sunless Tanning Creams:
Doctors orders: This is definitely the way to go!
These creams are generally very safe with the worst case scenario being a rash or streaking--but that's a whole lot better than skin cancer and irreversible wrinkles! Try to find something with dihydroxyacetone (DHA). This is the only FDA approved compound specifically approved for sunless tanning. DHA reacts with the amino acids of your skin giving you a darker shade. Start with a test area in an inconspicuous area, like the inside of your wrist. If no streaking or rash develops after 24 hours, then go for it! Start slow and reapply every several days until you get the shade you want. It's also a good idea to exfoliate prior to application. And remember, sunless tanning creams usually contain no significant sunscreen properties, so if you're out and about in the sun, don't forget sun block!

Bottled Sun-stitute: Try a Foolproof-Faker!
If you're afraid of the orange glow associated with a "tan-in-a-can", rest assured that the new formulas leave you looking sun kissed, not Oompa Loompa-ed. We like the Jergens Natural Glow series because they allow you to build a gradual tan, and also boost a ton of extra skin-saving ingredients like anti-oxidants and firming agents. Another great bet is the Olay Touch of Sun. But don't get caught orange-handed -- remember to wash your hands after application!

The Final Answer
If you want to be in the sun, put on some sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), if you want a tan, put on some self-tanning creams or sprays. And if you see a great deal on a tanning bed--keep walking! You can also learn how to get a golden bronze look using make up, by clicking here.