More Harm than Good: The Infamous Base Tan
With spring break right around the corner, you may hear the phrase “base tan” being used more often. The age-old myth goes something like “if you get a base tan, then you will avoid burning while tanning.” According to the CDC, a “base tan” only provides a sun protective factor (SPF) of about 3 or less, which is essentially nothing when it comes to protecting you against ultraviolet (UV) exposure. A SPF of 3 indicates that if it normally takes 10 minutes for you to burn, then the base tan would give you another 20 minutes (30 minutes total) before you burn. And if it’s less than 3, you’ll have no protection.
Tanning beds, the most widely used method to achieve a base tan, predominantly use UVA rays to induce a tan complexion, which can actually be more harmful than the UVB rays you are exposed to from the sun. In one study, UVA emitted from tanning beds was four times the amount of noontime sun exposure and UVB was twice the amount of noontime sun exposure. UVA light can cause skin cancer, such as melanoma.
UV radiation is essentially a carcinogen. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one blistering sunburn can nearly double your lifetime risk of getting melanoma. If you have ever used a tanning bed, you have a 67 percent increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 29 percent increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. If you started using a tanning bed before age 35, your increased risk of developing melanoma is 75 percent more than people who didn’t use tanning beds.
So, is there such a thing as a “healthy glow?” There are ways to achieve a nice bronze without the sun at all. Sunless tanning lotions are popular, especially newer formulas that eliminate the dreaded tanning smell of older formulas. Spray tans are also a great alternative to help you look great in that new swimsuit.
So before you head out somewhere warm for Spring Break, keep these points in mind:
- The best sunscreens out there are only effective for up to 90 minutes, meaning frequent reapplication is necessary for effective protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
- Sun protective clothing may be a nice alternative for you if you want to enjoy the sun without having to worry about reapplication of sunscreen every 90 minutes.
- Avoid direct sun exposure during the hours of 10 am to 4 pm, which is when the sun is most intense.
- See your board-certified dermatologist at Derick Dermatology, in our Arlington Heights, Barrington, Crystal Lake or Elgin offices, if you have any new or changing moles or if you’d like our providers to evaluate your moles for skin cancer.