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Tanning and Burning: Myths and Truths Everyone Should Know Before the Summer

With warm weather and beach days on the horizon, many of us can’t wait to bronze in the sun. But many of us also aren’t aware of the truth of the sun’s damage. Can we get a tan without risking the health of our skin? Of course, but first, let’s get the basics of how your skin interacts with the sun.

How Your Skin Responds to the Sun

When exposed to the sun, our outer layer of skin, the epidermis, releases melanin. This pigment darkens the skin in order to protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays. Sunburn occurs when the UVB rays penetrate the melanin layer and damages or kills the skin cells. UVA rays are absorbed deeper in the skin and can lead to premature aging and wrinkles. Repeated damage to the cells, resulting in multiple DNA mutations, may lead to skin cancer.

The GOOD NEWS is that you can protect yourself against the sun’s effects! Clothing, shade and sunscreen can provide thorough protection. The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of the effectiveness of the sunscreen. SPF 15 protects against 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent of UVB rays. “Broad Spectrum” sunscreens block against both UVA and UVB rays. Now that we know the basics, let’s break down common myths.

Myth 1: “I don’t burn!”

Truthfully, everyone has a different melanin response to the sun, however, eventually, the melanin can only do so much. In addition, you can burn and tan at the same time! So while your tan may cover a burn, if your newly tanned skin peels, your skin has been damaged and burned.

Myth 2: “Sunburn becomes suntan, so if I burn now it’ll eventually become a tan.”

Mostly false in that the actual layer of skin burned is not the same layer of skin revealing a later tan. But there are some serious side effects of using this method. By doing so, you permanently damage skin cells.  Once the damaged layer peel offs, there may be a tanner layer underneath (depended on your amount of sun exposure). But by using this method you burned off a layer of healthy skin and put yourself at higher risk for skin cancers.

Myth 3: “Sunscreen prevents tanning”

FALSE. The crucial truth to this myth is to understand the difference between sunblock and sunscreen. Sunblocks attempt to completely bar sun rays from entering the skin all together, therefore preventing the production of melanin. Sunscreens, on the other hand, protect against burning by filtering the UV rays. Sunscreens, therefore, will not prevent the production of melanin and will still enable you to get a tan.

Myth 4: “Sunscreen isn’t that effective for preventing burns.”

Watch Take Care Out There to learn how effective sunscreens are against the sun’s powerful rays.

Long Term Risks: Why You Should Really Put on Sunscreen

Though it may feel unbearably hot out and the last thing you want is to cover your skin, the sunscreen you put on today determines your skin’s health of the future. Sun exposure is the leading cause of early aging. In fact, UV exposure is responsible for 80% of visual aging signs, such as pigmentations, wrinkles, and texture imbalances. In addition to this, repeated skin damage from UV rays can create DNA damage, which puts damaged skin at a greater risk for skin cancers. Increased long term exposure to the sun can result in skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Tessa Volpe

Northwestern '22

Tessa is a freshman at Northwestern University and is from Winnetka, IL. In her free time she loves to bake, sing a capella, hang out with friends, and work out!
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