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jun 21 2011

Is tanning worth it?

Beach umbrella (Courtesy lovbrkthru/Flickr)

It's the official start of summer, and as such it's also the unofficial start of tanning season. But with increasing research and information available about the risks of tanning, is that beach-bronzed skin worth the health threats?

First off, let's go over sun basics 101. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays (which can pass through window glass) penetrate deeper into the skin. UVA rays can suppress the immune system's ability to protect against skin cancer and exposure to UVA can lead to wrinkling and age spots.

The UVB rays are the sun's burning rays (which are blocked by window glass) and are the primary cause of sunburn. The Academy has this good tip: "A good way to remember it is that UVA rays are the aging rays and UVB rays are the burning rays." And note that excessive exposure to either form of UV rays can lead to skin cancer.

In other words, there is no safe way to tan (sigh). But, there are safer ways to tan.

This is the American Academy of Dermatology's recommendations for how to be "sun smart:"

- Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. "Broad-spectrum" provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply about every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.

- Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible. (Check out Japanese clothing store Uniqlo's new line, Uniqlo UV Cut, that claims to filter out UV rays.)

- Seek shade. The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (That's right, time to invest in a beach umbrella. I'm on the hunt for a 1950s-style, nautical striped number…)

- Use extra caution near water, snow and sand because they reflect the sun's damaging rays, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

- Get your daily dose of vitamin D safely through diet and vitamin supplements.

- Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

- Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

What about you? Are you planning on tanning despite the odds? Let us know by voting in our poll or commenting below.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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