Real or Fake? Which Tanning Approach is Healthiest?

One of the most participated in pastimes of the spring and summer months is enjoying the sunshine. Being outside in the warmth, enjoying the sun’s rays and having a good time with friends and family is something that we all try to do. Protecting ourselves from the damaging properties that the sun provides is also something that goes hand in hand with the warmth over these months; in fact, some even try to replicate the sun’s effects on the body without actually being in the sun in order to reduce their exposure.
Getting a great tan has always been a goal for millions of people during the spring and summer. A nice bronzed look gives a sense of self confidence and allows for a nice look while the sun is out. Whether the tan is obtained the old fashioned way with hours of sun exposure, or via tanning beds or sprays, the dangers are still ever present, even though the result is essentially the same. So which one is really worse?

Sun tanning can cause skin cancer, this is widely known and is the reason that sunscreen is lathered on in repeatedly by many beach goers. The sun’s rays are also responsible for premature aging, cataracts and immune system suppression , as well as the all too familiar, not to mention painful, sunburn. To avoid these consequences, sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you go outside and reapplied every two to three hours while in the sun. A 2010 small-scale study found that if you aren’t lathering daily, you could be doubling your chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The other alternative to hours in the baking sun, applying lotions and sunscreens as well as risking the chance of sun burn and peeling skin is the tanning bed or tanning sprays. This being said, these spray tans can also be hazardous to your health. The major concern over these sprays is mainly due to their use of dihydroxyacetone (DHA). It has been proven that DHA in the sprays and self tanning lotions interacts with dead cells on the skin’s surface to evoke color change. When used moderately and properly, DHA is considered safe, and these self tanners are indeed a much safer option than sitting in the sun for hours.

However, many people don’t use spray tans properly. The FDA advises people cover their lips, nose and eyes because the risks from inhaling DHA are unknown. Studies have shown that high levels of DHA can increase free radical formation. Free radicals are part of our natural metabolic process but high levels have been linked to cell damage and cancer.

So, whether you’re baking in the sun, or sitting in a tanning bed, doing it the right way, which means in a reasonable amount of time and with lots of application of sunscreen, is the best way to go.


Consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for any medical related advice.

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