It’s holiday time and for many it’s also time to spend more time outdoors, by the sea or in the mountains! Inevitably, whether you’re lying comfortably on a beach blanket or walking along steep paths, you get a tan and sometimes risk getting burnt.
Exposure to the sun is definitely good for your mood; in fact, statistics tell us that suicides occur mainly in winter. However, excessive exposure to UV rays is not good for you.
What happens to our skin when we get a tan.
A tan is the way our body protects itself from the sun. All thanks to the melanin produced by specific cells called melanocytes. Melanin is a pigment that has the task of protecting us from UV rays. There are two types of melanin; eumelanin which is typical for people with dark hair, and pheomelanin, which is present in people with red hair. Blond people have both melanins. It’s quite understandable that eumelanin is the one that protects the most, and in fact, it’s produced more quickly by our body.
What are the risks you run when you expose yourself to too much sun?
Even if we have a good dose of melanin, exposing ourselves to the sun for too long and doing so without protection (strongly protecting sun creams in the first days and then medium protection) is one of the main risk factors for the development of less aggressive tumors, called basal and spinocellular carcinomas. However, in some cases a melanoma can also develop, which is a more aggressive tumor, but which requires not only exposure to the sun but also hereditary (genetic) factors and personal characteristics (e.g. presence of moles, freckles, and phototype).
How can we recognize, for example, if a mole after sun exposure can become potentially dangerous? The American Academy of Dermatology suggests a short lexicon:
- Asymmetry – The irregular shape of the mole or other particular skin shape should prompt a visit to the dermatologist
- Edges – The margins of melanomas are often jagged
- Color – A normal mole is uniform in color
- Size – The increase of the mole in a short time (i.e. a few months), and also the thickness should not be underestimated
- Evolution – The mole is stable in its shape, color and size; at most, it evolves over many years. If it grows or changes colour in a few months, it should prompt a check by a dermatologist
But it’s not only the skin that can be damaged by excessive exposure to the sun. It’s also necessary to pay attention to your eyesight. In fact, photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis can be compared to a real sunburn of the eyes, and it can become very painful.
Finally, other harmful effects of excessive sun exposure are premature aging of the skin, coupled with the progressive loss of elasticity and hydration. In fact, the sun causes the degeneration of two important proteins; elastin and collagen, which provide support and elasticity to the skin. Their degeneration causes the “sea wolf” effect, with more visible wrinkles and stess lines. These effects are not only aesthetic, but they seem to be related to the increased risk of viral, bacterial, and fungal infections of the skin.
With all of this, I certainly don’t intend to alarm people too much, but the buzzword is PREVENTION.
So what are the rules for tanning with less risk?
The first few days it’s always best to protect yourself with a high-protection sun cream, especially if you have light skin, blue eyes, blond or red hair.
Spread the cream evenly at least fifteen minutes before exposure to the sun, as the skin must absorb it. Be sure to re-apply it every two hours.
Do not use residues of old sun creams, and use only those with labels that say that they’ve been tested for photosensitivity.
Do not expose yourself to the sun during the hottest daylight hours, and if it’s necessary to do so, protect yourself with light-colored clothing, cap, and don’t get caught without your sunglasses.
Do not fall asleep in the sun; it’s pleasant but very dangerous, as time passes and we don’t notice it!
In conclusion, let’s get a tan but “with our heads!”
This post is also available in: Italiano