A man looks at a giant advertisement of a person with a deep tan, holding sunscreen while surrounded by palm trees.

I Don’t Believe in Safe Tanning, or Do I?

I don’t believe in safe tanning. I don’t believe in a “healthy” tan. I don’t believe in a “healthy” glow (as it relates to a tan). How can glowing being healthy? Isn’t that how we describe items that are irradiated? I do like the term when it refers to a bride who was “glowing” at her wedding. I do like “glow in the dark” paint and frisbees.

Is there such thing as a safe tan?

This rant is brought to you by an article I just read in a very well-known online French fashion magazine that ran across my newsfeed today. The headline and subheading hook the reader with simple instructions on how people can return from their vacations with an awesome, safe tan (bronzed models grace the article). They can “tan like an expert.”1

A confusing message about tanning

So, what is “expert tanning”? Well, the article first instructs its readers to use SPF30 sunscreen to protect tanners from harmful UVA and UVB sun rays. It goes on to explain how much sunscreen should be applied and reapplied. I like this part, but it confuses me a little. How are they supposed to tan when they are blocking tanning rays on purpose? (By the way, any tanning is considered unsafe by the Food and Drug Administration and many other health organizations and health care professionals).2

The article then advises its readers to avoid being in the sun between 10.a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid the harshest rays and protect their skin. I agree with this as well. The rest of the article gives tips on eating healthy foods that protect the skin from the sun, using self-tanners, avoiding tanning booths, and hydrating. Now, I am really confused.

With the provocative photos and catchy title in a fashion magazine, I was expecting less safe skincare practice instruction and more about the wonders of a glowing tan for people as they come back from their vacations in the South of France. I was expecting more chic and less practical tips on staying safe in the sun. So, what do I feel about this?

We should not encourage tanning

I feel like there is some mixed messaging here. I lived the “tan” life and it was more about keeping up with appearances and impressing others. So, my motivation to tan was primarily about self-esteem. I equated tan skin with vibrant youthfulness and success, but I can’t assume that others do the same. I am just leery about any advice that encourages people to tan even if their practical advice seems to align with mine.

Protect your skin no matter what

I equate tanning not with good health, but with sun damage and skin cancer. The very premise of the article seems askew, but then again maybe this is a way for those who want to tan to read about safer ways to conduct themselves. Maybe this is a way to reach those who would simply ignore people like me and other reformed sunbathers.

I guess the basic message is this, if you are going to the beach, then wear sunscreen, stay out of the midday sun, eat right, drink water, and try spray tans. Personally, I don’t do spray tans.

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