The dark pigment that gives skin its natural colour is called melanin and it is made in our skin by cells called melanocytes.
Melanin is an excellent photoprotectant; it protects our skin by absorbing the majority of harmful UV radiation and transforms the energy into harmless heat. However, when we are exposed to too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds, it causes direct and indirect DNA damage to the skin. The body naturally seeks to repair the damage and protect the skin by creating and releasing further melanin into the skin's cells.
It is this increase in melanin that causes the skin to go darker, creating a tan. It is a sign that the DNA in the skin has been damaged by radiation and is trying to protect itself.
A sunburn is a clear sign that ultraviolet radiation from the sun or sunbeds has damaged the genetic material in your skin cells i.e. your DNA.
And this damaged DNA can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.
Getting sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
Protecting yourself from sun damage is easy:
- Use a suitable sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and with UVA protection;
- Apply the sunscreen generously, covering all areas of the skin - and reapply every few hours;
- Wear a brimed sun hat;
- Cover up;
- Wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB - eyes are also at risk from UV damage;
- Seek shade, especially during the hotest part of the day.
Fake tan refers to any product that you put on your skin to create the look and glow of a tan. Fake tanning products are a safe way of achieving a tanned look.
Some products sit on your skin and are easily removed e.g. bronzers, tinted moisturisers.
More long-lasting products contain an active ingredient that reacts chemically with the amino acids in the dead layer of the skin’s surface. This reaction is non-toxic and skin-safe, it requires no UV exposure and involves no permanent pigmentation.
The active ingredients used are dihydroxyacetone and erythulose; products use one or the other, though some do use both.
Off-the-shelf fake tan products come in sprays, mousses, lotions and creams. Salon-applied products may also include airbrushing.
Even with a fake tan, you still need to use a sunscreen product to protect your skin in the sun.