Is Skin Tanning Cancerous?

Skin tanningSkin color has been the greatest divider in the history of mankind with wars fought, slaves tortured and communities stigmatised because of difference in skin tones. However, things have changed and we have become more acceptable to people of different appearance than others. In fact, there seems to be a reversal of trends. While in many countries people still wish to have fair skin, those with white skin are going crazy over tanning to make their skin appear darker because they feel that it is much sexier.

They are spending hours basking in the sun or sitting in the artificial chambers of ultraviolet (UV) radiations even though their grandparents always thought dark skin is associated with lower class. However, various research studies have shown that skin tanning causes cancer. Read on to know how.

Understanding tanning

Tanning is actually your skin’s response to UV radiation. The melanocytes cells in the skin produce pigment melanin, which darkens the cells of the outer skin as a defence against further damage from UV radiation which is called tanning in common terminology.

However, this protection mechanism can also lead to skin cancer. When the UV rays damage DNA of the outer skin cells, body rushes certain enzymes to do the repairing job but since not every repair is perfect, the leftover DNA damage results in mutations and hence skin cancer.

It’s not that sun rays are always bad for you. In fact, moderate exposure is essential because it triggers the production of vitamin D in your body. Vitamin D has been found beneficial in reducing the risk of many forms of cancers, diabetes, and other diseases but natural food sources of this vitamin are limited. In comparison, just 20 minutes exposure to sunlight can help you maintain the optimal levels.

However, try to restrict this exposure to early morning because the wavelength of sunshine at early hours is most effective. On the other hand, avoid the sun between 11 am and 3 pm because during this time the sunlight is strongest and hence can cause skin burn and tanning, both of which have been linked to development of skin cancer.[ad#co-1]

Ultraviolet radiations

The ultraviolet radiations from sunlight are of different wavelengths are divided into UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is mostly absorbed by the ozone layer and hence is not deemed a threat while UVB is considered to be the most dangerous of all wavelengths.

UVA is present uniformly throughout the day and throughout the year while the amount of UVB in sunlight varies by season, location and time of the day.
There was doubt about the effect of UVA till some time back as many thought it was not harmful but according to recent studies the wavelength penetrates deeper causing greater genetic damage to the skin cells than UVB and hence being equally if not more carcinogenic. Moreover, sunscreens are more effective in blocking UVB than UVA which can only be barred to some extent by clothing.

Saloon owners have been selling their tanning machines by claiming that the artificial exposure is safer than outdoor tanning because they use UVA rays in a controlled manner. However, as the new studies have shown these machines are as much responsible for causing skin cancer as traditional sunbathing.

The message is simple: Skin tanning causes cancer so better avoid it. Your natural skin color is as good as any other.

Risk factors

Most skin cancers affect the body parts which are frequently exposed to the sun, including head, face, hands, neck, forearms, shoulders, back, chests of men, tips of the ears and lower legs of women.

Caucasians are more likely to get skin cancer because they have light skin which means less melanin to protect against harmful sun radiations. Those with a dark complexion have more melanin in their skin which acts as a sun blocker. Hence, a white skinned man will fall to skin cancer in lesser time than an Asian or an African. Even among fair skinned, those who get sunburns easily are at greater risk. Having a history of skin cancer in the family, having several moles, freckles or birthmarks on the body and being out in the sun a lot during childhood are some other risk factors.