5 sun tanning myths harming your skin

“There is nothing healthy about a tan.” You might have heard this sentiment before, yet many people continue to believe that tanned skin is a sign of good health. Unfortunately, tanning is a significant sign of skin cell trauma – your skin’s way of attempting to protect itself from serious harm.

A tan is caused by UV radiation, which is most commonly emitted by the sun and solariums. UV rays can cause permanent skin cell damage in less than 10 minutes, leading to signs of ageing (like wrinkles, sunspots, pigmentation and sagging skin) and accounting for the vast majority of skin cancers.

Here are five common myths about sun tanning that you shouldn’t believe.

1. A ‘base tan’ is good for you

There is a misconception that getting a light tan before a holiday will prevent your skin from burning. In reality, any form of a tan is enough to damage your skin cells. A tan only offers limited protection from further sun damage – about SPF3.

The best way to prevent sunburn is to wear SPF50+ sunscreen and sun-protective clothes like a hat and long sleeves, and stay indoors when UV levels peak (usually around the middle of the day).

2. A tan looks more appealing

Some people believe that changing their skin tone improves their appearance. In the long-term, however, UV radiation has a very detrimental effect on the skin. A lifetime of sun damage leads to early signs of skin ageing as you get older, including wrinkles, lines, sunspots, blotchy pigmentation, and dull or crepey skin.

Just five bad sunburns are enough to double your chance of developing potentially deadly melanoma – the treatment for which can leave scarring and disfigurement.

3. Tanning isn’t dangerous

Over 90 per cent of skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation. Alarmingly, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend. Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, with one person dying from melanoma every five hours.

4. Solariums are safe tanning alternatives

Commercial solariums are banned throughout Australia. Just one visit to a solarium increases your risk of melanoma by 20 per cent.

5. Sun tan oil protects my skin from burning

Sun tan oils and lotions don’t offer sun protection, unless they have a high SPF rating; most sun tan oils only offer an SPF of about 2. The recommended SPF is 50 or higher.

Written by National Skin Cancer Centres