Dear Barb – Suntanning

Dear Barb:

Now that summer is here I notice a lot of my friends have been tanning. However because of everything I’ve been hearing about the dangers of the sun I’m a little reluctant to tan, but I don’t like looking so pale. Is the sun really that bad for us?

Jennifer in Nova Scotia

Great to hear from you, Jennifer. You have brought up a very important issue. I certainly understand where you are coming from. For years we learned to associate tanned skin with health and beauty. However in reality the exact opposite is true. In fact, tanned skin is actually damaged skin.

Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays not only contributes to various forms of skin cancer, it is responsible for 90% of the signs of premature aging of the skin. A frightening statistic indicates that three thousand people still die each year from skin cancer. The majority of these skin cancers could be avoided by avoiding the damaging rays of the sun.

Most sun exposure occurs during childhood, as children spend so much of their time out of doors. In other words, those sunburns that are a part of so many of our childhood memories are cumulative and a contributing factor to developing skin cancer decades later. Those mostly at risk for sun damage are fair skinned individuals, with blonde or red hair. It seems brunettes have some protection, although they are still vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays, but maybe to a lesser degree.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from the sun, although I’m sure you are familiar with most. For example, wear sunscreen daily with SPF of at least 15, avoid the midday sun and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, as they are also vulnerable to the harmful rays of the sun.

Nevertheless, there are other ways to get that tanned look without all the risks. Sunless tanning products are improving constantly. Manufacturers are working diligently to perfect these items, so that when applied properly you can achieve a natural, streak free tan. As well, there are many spas and clinics that will apply a sunless product for you. This procedure is called an “airbrush tan” and requires an experienced person with the proper equipment to apply it.

Another alternative is a method that appears similar to the traditional tanning bed, in that you either lie down in a bed or stand up in booth, and a sunless tanning product, which is 100% UV safe, is then sprayed on, taking only 60 seconds. Your streak free tan will last up to seven days and the products used are FDA approved and have been used in the food or cosmetics industry for decades. However these applications are not cheap, so it may be best to save for that special occasion.

Even though you may not feel comfortable with your non-tanned skin, in 20 or 30 years there is a good chance you may be envied for your smooth, unlined skin.

Thank you, Jennifer, for asking about a topic that I’m sure many are considering at this time of year.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.