Is There a Safe Way to Get a Tan?

tanning

As long as you don’t burn, suntanning isn’t bad for you, right? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. “There’s no such thing as a safe tan,” according to dermatologist Anthony Rossi, who took us through the unhealthy relationship between UV rays and our skin to explain why.

Turns out, a tan isn’t all that different from a sunburn, at least as far as our epidermis is concerned. “Extended exposure to UVB rays [whether you end up with a burn or a tan] causes the DNA within your cells to mutate,” Rossi explains. “This turns the cells themselves completely necrotic and, put simply, increases your risk of developing skin cancer.” A tan today also means wrinkles, rashes and dark spots later in life, although obviously that should be a secondary consideration compared to what could happen.

Don’t get to thinking a base tan will help, either. “The immediate pigment darkening you see after spending a long day at the beach does NOT protect against sunburns, because no new melanin is actually produced,” Rossi says. “Your skin’s just redistributing what’s already there.”

But what about tanning beds? They can’t be as harmful as the sun’s rays, right? Wrong again! In a statement made against tanning salons, David E. Fisher, chairman of dermatology and director of the melanoma program at Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School, stated that, “there is no question that ultraviolet exposure is associated with an increased risk of melanoma.” The facts back him up: A 2014 study estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer may be related to indoor tanning in the United States every year.

Your quest for bronze doesn’t have to end in vampiric paleness, though. Sunless tanning products, like bronzers or spray-on tans, are 100 percent UV-free and work a whole lot quicker than a summer’s worth of trips to the beach. Just go easy on them, unless you want people to think you work at the chocolate factory.