Oh the appeal of a golden brown tan! In the olden times, pale white skin was a sign of aristocracy, showing that you did not have to venture out to toil in the sun. Then travel to exotic and sunny locales became the rage and a golden tan was a badge of honor showing that you could afford to do these things. But while we do need some sunlight to maintain health and happiness, what exactly is too much sunlight and what can it do to us?
The sun is a glowing radiation factory, giving off three categories of ultraviolet light: UVC, UVB and UVA. In the case of the UVC radiation, it is of no consequence to the skin as it is absorbed by the ozone layer before reaching the earth. The other two forms of ultraviolet radiation however do affect humans, mainly in the skin.
UVB rays are the ones that are responsible for the majority of our sunburns. To reduce the exposure to these rays, limit the time that you spend outside during the peak hours of ten a.m. and two p.m., especially in the summer months and wear sun block with a high SPF rating if you cannot.
UVA rays can be a major reason for skin damage, although it was previously thought of as only a minor problem. This radiation is more dangerous because it penetrates deeper and remains at a more constant level of intensity rather than varying like UVB rays do. Neither UVA nor UVB rays are able to penetrate glass. The damage caused by both can include premature wrinkling, skin cancer, collagen breakdown and a lowered immune system.
Overly tanned skin will eventually take on a wrinkled, coarse texture resembling leather. Another potential skin issue is freckling, especially in fair skinned people, blondes and redheads. Freckles can become larger with sun exposure and change to an age or liver spot. (These have nothing to do with age.)
It was once thought that tanning in a tanning bed was the safe alternative to sun exposure, but this is not really the case. Even tanning beds can cause an unsafe build up in radiation in the skin and lead to the same skin issues as the sun does. If you insist on a tanned appearance, investigate sunless sprays, foams and lotions to protect your skin.