Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.A.
Long before the guidos and guidettes of MTV’s Jersey Shore were bragging about their daily GTL (gym, tan, laundry) routine, many young people were taking the “T” to an extreme. Tanning salons have been in business in the U.S. since the 1970’s, and they are no safer today than they were when they first became popular. Avoiding tanning beds is a health-conscious decision, but there are also other things you can do to get serious about sun safety.
OK, SPF actually stands for “sun protection factor,” but you should still view sunscreen with a high SPF as a way to have fun outdoors without worrying about a painful, ugly sunburn. Failing to use sunscreen can lead to a variety of other problems in addition to sunburns, such as skin cancer, wrinkles, and premature aging. All sunscreens use similar chemicals to protect your skin from UVA and UVB sunrays, but dermatologists recommend that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Some sunscreens are labeled “waterproof,” but it is still a good idea to reapply them after you swim and towel off because water can decrease their effectiveness and toweling off can wipe them off of your skin.
Play it safe in the shade
The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you have to be outdoors during those hours, wear extra sunscreen and try to stay in areas that are shaded by trees or tents. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers your body is another way to decrease your chances of getting sunburned; some sportswear companies make lightweight clothing that is specifically designed to block UVA and UVB rays. Sun-blocking clothing tends to be a little pricey, but you may want to invest in it if you’re going to be working at a job that requires you to be outdoors all summer. Large sunglasses are fashionable, and they also protect the skin around your eyes from the wrinkles that can be caused by years of squinting.
Get a faux glow
Self-tanning lotions have improved a lot in recent years. I’ve personally had luck with several drugstore brands that allow you to build a tan gradually. I was a bridesmaid a few summers ago, and I wanted to look tan in the wedding photos, so I started applying self-tanning lotion two weeks before the wedding. I was really pale to begin with (my heritage is French and German) and ended up about four shades darker prior to the big day. Self-tanning lotions can cause the palms of your hands to look unnaturally tan if you apply them every day, so be sure to wash your hands right after application to achieve the most natural look. Some tanning salons offer spray tans, but my experience with a salon spray tan was really unpleasant, and some of the chemicals may not be safe if you inhale them.
It is also important to note that dermatologists recommend that people of all skin tones, including African Americans, use sunscreen. People with dark skin are still at risk for skin cancer, and they are also at risk for wrinkles and uneven skin tone from prolonged exposure to the sun.
This summer, try to make sun safety more than just an afterthought. When you’re a wrinkle-free 40-year-old who still gets ID’ed when buying alcohol, you’ll be glad you did!