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Posted: Monday, April 22, 2024

Is a Base Tan the Best Plan?

As the days grow longer and the sun beckons us outdoors, many people believe that acquiring a “base tan” is essential before indulging in extended sun exposure. The idea behind a base tan is to gradually build up a tan before spending prolonged periods in the sun, under the assumption that it will offer protection against sunburns and skin cancer. However, is this practice truly necessary

Waynette Kingman, a physician assistant with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Dermatology in Vonore, debunks the myth surrounding base tans. “A tan, much like a sunburn, is evidence of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Whether acquired intentionally through tanning or inadvertently by neglecting sunscreen outdoors, repeated exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of UV damage, possibly leading to skin cancer,” explains Kingman.

UV radiation, whether from sunlight or indoor tanning beds, can induce mutations in skin cells. When exposed to UV radiation, the body produces melanin, a pigment that acts as a protective shield over the nucleus of skin cells, where DNA resides. Unfortunately, UV exposure can also damage melanocytes, the cells responsible for melanin production, potentially leading to melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, relying on a base tan for protection can foster a false sense of security. Base tanners may forego sunscreen or reapplication, mistakenly believing their tan will protect them from harm. Dermatologists caution that a base tan offers minimal protection, equivalent to wearing sunscreen with a low sun protection factor (SPF) of 3 or 4. Given that the majority of sunscreens offer an SPF of at least 15, sunscreen offers more protection on first application than a base tan. “Depending on UV index and time of day, skin can burn in as little as 10 minutes. We recommend frequent application of SPF 30 as the minimum recommended level of protection to lower risk of burn and photoaging, and SPF 100 is better,” emphasized Kingman.

Rather than a base tan, dermatologists suggest protective clothing and sunscreen as the best defense against UV radiation. Opting for sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, containing ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, provides broader coverage, especially if waterproof and reapplied regularly. “Covering exposed skin with UV protective clothing, hats and sunglasses (eyes can get a sunburn called photokeratitis), alongside the diligent use of sunscreen, is a far safer approach to enjoying the outdoors,” stresses Kingman. When it comes to sun protection, relying on a base tan is not the best plan. By prioritizing protective measures such as sunscreen and clothing, everyone can enjoy the sunshine safely, minimizing the risk of UV-related skin damage and cancer.

For those seeking expert guidance on skin health, or to make an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Dermatology in Vonore, call 423-884-1925. For Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Dermatology in Alcoa, call 865-238-6450.

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