There are few things that signify summertime more aptly than the look of a bronzed suntan. For decades—in fact, probably since revered fashion icon Coco Chanel popularized it in the ‘20s—tanned skin has been the ultimate accessory to a summer wardrobe, with everyone from celebrities to teenagers at the beach going for the golden glow.
Unfortunately, for far too many individuals, the pursuit of that tan comes with the very real risk of going too far…and turning out red instead of brown. While a suntan signifies the skin’s development of the pigment melanin to protect itself, reddening is the skin’s alarm call of “overdose!” to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. And, while many people burn first, then achieve a tan later, this practice is no less damaging.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a full 42 percent of people they polled in a survey reported getting sunburned at least once a year. If you think that a sunburn carries no more risk than a day or two of discomfort, think again.
The Sun Isn’t Just Aging, It Can Be Deadly
By now we are all aware of the aging effects of the sun (wrinkles, sun spots) that cumulate over time. If you are in your 20s and have had a few sunburns over the years, these spots and creases may not show up until your 30s or 40s—and they may startle you when they finally appear, seemingly out of nowhere.
Far more concerning, however, is the fact that sunburns (and suntans, for that matter) put individuals at alarming risk for skin cancer. If you had just one blistering sunburn as a child—or five total over your adult years—you are at double risk for developing the most deadly of skin cancers, melanoma, at some point in your life.
Melanoma occurs when unrepaired damage to skin cell DNA triggers mutations. Although curable if caught early, it is often deadly and hard to contain. The American Cancer Society estimates about 120,000 new cases of melanoma in the U.S. are diagnosed in a year, and the disease kills an estimated 8,790 people annually.
How can you protect yourself? The obvious answer is to avoid sun exposure altogether—especially between the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m–or use effective sun protection such as sunscreen and/or appropriate clothing such as coverups and hats when outside.
And don’t be fooled by tanning beds—they’re just as bad as the natural sun. Both offer dangerous levels of UV radiation that can result in badly damaged or even cancerous skin.
Oops: I Had A Little Too Much Fun In The Sun
That said, nobody’s perfect: If you find yourself facing down a sunburn after having fun outside on a sunny day, you’ll want to take the following simple but effective steps immediately to mitigate discomfort and possibly retard further damage.
Identify the burn before it becomes severe. If you feel your skin itching, stinging, or turning even just a little bit pink, you’re on your way to a sunburn…and it will only get worse if you don’t react quickly. Get out of the sun immediately, and begin administering treatment as soon as possible.
Get into a cool bath or shower. This will lower your body temperature and make you feel more comfortable. After you’re done, apply moisturizer to soothe your damaged skin. Noxema, aloe vera gel, and cold compresses can all offer relief as well.
Take ibuprofen or aspirin. These OTC remedies will help with the pain, and also have anti-inflammatory effects that will reduce the swelling.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and fluids.
If you end up developing blisters, you have managed to achieve a second-degree burn. You may want to visit the doctor to be safe. Regardless, do not attempt to pop the blisters yourself! If they burst on their own, apply an antibiotic cream to ward off infection.
But I Still Love The Look Of A Beautiful Tan!
Still want to be a bronzed god or goddess, even after all the scary facts about sun exposure have been presented? Good news: You can! Nowadays, there are plenty of options to achieve a beautiful, natural-looking, and safe wash of color – one that won’t damage your skin. If you haven’t looked into cosmetic/sunless tanning in a while, you’re bound to be surprised at the variety of options available and what realistic results they provide.
Lotions, creams, sprays, and mousses can be found at all price ranges. Earlier inexpensive versions tended to have “orange” effects on many skin types; however, manufacturers have vastly improved the formulas by now and you can pick up a great product even under generic names such as Walmart’s Equate. Just apply and you’ll find yourself browner a few hours later!
These self-tanners even have progressed to foolproof application features, such as convenient towelettes for flawless coverage, as well as lotions that provide gradual tanning effects allowing you to “build” a tan over the course of several days.
For an even more perfect result, consider visiting a salon for an airbrush tan. The product is sprayed on your body (you can wear whatever you are comfortable with, or go au naturel, and usually protective goggles are supplied for your eyes), ensuring even coverage as well as the reassurance even hard-to-reach spots receive color.
Just remember: No sunless tanning product provides protection against the sun unless specifically stated, and the color you achieve from them is not a “base” that will “toughen” you up for further, real tanning. You should always still use sunscreen with a high SPF, and/or choose protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses when outside.
Enjoy the sun, be brown, but be cautious as well!