Curiosities About Tanning

Have a look at our fascinating curiosities about tanning!
Curiosities About Tanning
Diego Pereira

Reviewed and approved by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 29 January, 2023

Until not too long ago, tanned skin was the subject of social stigma. It was associated with the working class – those who had to spend hours and hours under the sun to earn their daily living. Today this isn’t the case, to the point that an entire industry and adoration for tanned skin has been created. We’ll look at some curiosities about tanning to confirm facts and banish myths.

Tanning is a very common practice, and the United States and Europe are where it enjoys greater acceptance. Year after year the tanning industry generates millions and millions of dollars, and despite the great receptivity of the public, very few are aware of its mechanisms, the real benefits, and its risks. We’ll look at some of these from the experts.

6 curiosities about tanning

The main reason for tanning the skin is due to aesthetic motivation. In fact, most people who tan don’t do it to get more vitamin D (its main benefit). Let’s look at 6 curiosities about tanning that you should know according to scientists.

1. Tanning is a protective response of the body

The mechanism behind tanning is thought to have evolved in our ancestors as a defense strategy against the DNA-damaging effects of sunlight. Certainly, tanning is nothing more than that: a protective response of the organism. UV radiation stimulates keratinocytes and melanocytes to produce various substances that accelerate melanogenesis upon UV stimulation.

Skipping many details, melanogenesis is a process in which the amino acid tyrosine is converted to melanin pigment. The amount of melanin in the skin is what gives it its color (people with vitiligo lack it).

By increasing its production, the complexion acquires a darker appearance, and the number of cells present in the upper layer of the skin acts as a shield against UV rays. It’s believed that the maximum SPF (sun protection factor) for natural tanning is 4 (blocks 65% of UV rays).

Also known as a self-tanner, it consists of a series of products that are applied to the skin to give the appearance of a tan. In very simple terms, it consists of a type of make up” to emulate the tan that is obtained by exposure to the sun or the use of tanning beds. As experts warn, products of this type include the compound dihydroxyacetone (DHA) as the main agent.

DHA is a plant-derived sugar molecule that reacts through chemical processes with amino acids in the skin’s stratum corneum. As a consequence, a tan-like pigment is produced when applied to the skin. It’s known as the Maillard reaction and doesn’t require UV rays like sun tanning or indoor tanning does.

3. Tanning beds don’t provide you with vitamin D

Tanning curiosities include tanning beds
Despite their great popularity, there is plenty of evidence that tanning beds have harmful effects on health.

The indoor tanning industry promotes tanning beds as having various health benefits, and not just as a cosmetic practice. Among other things, they point out that they provide you with vitamin D, although this isn’t entirely true. Specialists warn that the main emission spectrum of indoor tanning lamps is in the UVA range, and not in the UVB range.

The action process of vitamin D biosynthesis against UV rays in the skin is done only with exposure to UVB. All types of tanning are associated with significant DNA damage, although the mechanism is different.

UVA tanning is known to generate photo-oxidation of melanin and its precursors thus creating a distribution of pigment granules. For its part, UVB tanning stimulates melanocytes to regulate melanin synthesis and thus increase pigmentation coverage.

4. Tanning addiction is known as “tanorexia”

Experts use the term tanorexia to refer to episodes of addiction or dependence on tanning. It is known that being a woman, being a young adult, having fair skin, and maintaining addictive habits (such as smoking) are all associated with a higher risk of developing this type of dependence. This is a real problem, one that is often underestimated in society.

5. People with seasonal affective disorder can develop dependency

Curiosities about tanning in any part of the body
Certain people are more prone to tanning frequently, which is negative if done excessively and without proper protection.

Seasonal affective disorder refers to episodes of depression that begin and end during a specific season of the year. It often manifests itself during the winter months, or in seasons with less sunlight.

Since exposure to the sun can improve mood, specialists warn of the risk of developing tanning dependence among those with the disorder.

In the same way, and as the evidence indicates, people can resort to tanning to improve their mood. This is regardless of whether they suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Those who have depression, anxiety, are exposed to high levels of stress and others can resort to tanning to improve their emotions. This increases the risk of developing addiction episodes.

6. Regular tanning increases the risk of skin cancer

We can’t dismiss this list of tanning trivia without mentioning the risk of skin cancer associated with excessive sun exposure or the use of tanning beds.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns us that the main risk factors for skin cancer are related to recreational exposure to ultraviolet rays. This could explain the increase in cases in recent decades.

We hope that these curiosities about tanning have been useful to clear up some questions and misunderstandings about tanning.

Being aware of the associated health risks is very important so that you can regulate the interaction you have with methods that tan the skin. We invite you to explore sunless tanning products, as these are safer for your health than tanning beds and direct sun exposure.

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