Every spring, thousands of people begin shaving, moisturizing, and signing up for memberships or sessions at tanning salons. Thousands of people also pull out clothing for the spring and summer time, especially clothing that bares more skin. Many people have a singular goal in mind: get a tan.
Classically, people strive to have an even skin tone, preferably an olive or brown color with few tints of orange or red. The more of the body tanned, the better.
Getting a tan can cost lots of time and money, depending on the method used. Methods for tanning including natural exposure to the sun, applying oils or spray on tans, and laying in tanning beds. For many people, use methods like these to get a tan is an annual activity.
Another annual activity, though many people do little to make it happen, is the fading of a tan. Throughout the end of summer and all of autumn, tans naturally disappear.
Here’s what you need to know about this process:
1. A Tan is a Part of Natural Scientific Process
To turn paint into a different color, something within its composition must change. A different product, like an oil or chemical, must be mixed into it. Getting a tan works in a similar way because a reaction must occur within the skin. This occurs naturally within the skin as a result of exposure to the UV rays of the sun.
In the epidermis, there are skin cells called melanocytes. Upon exposure to UVB rays (a type of UV ray most prevalent and abundant during the summer), these skin cells begin producing melanin. A pigment, melanin darkens the skin while absorbing the radiation of the UVB rays.
The reason the darkened skin is visible is because the pigmentation alters the surface cells, called keratinocytes. Each individual’s unique ability to tan and particular skin color from tanning is related to the melanin in their body.
Many fair-skinned individuals do not have much melanin. As a result, there is little to absorb those UVB rays. Consequently, the cells are damaged and get inflamed and red. That’s what is commonly called a sunburn.
2. Tanning is Part of Your Body’s Defense against Burns
Melanin is essentially activated by exposure to UVB rays. It works by absorbing the radiation, though. Like any other form of radiation, exposure to UVB rays carries risks. Radiation, especially when intense or excessive, is harmful. In fact, exposure to radiation can kill and damage skills, resulting in sunburn.
When the body produces melanin to absorb the radiation it is ultimately protecting cells from undesired exposure to the rays. Since melanin also serves to darken the skin and give a tan, getting a tan essentially helps the body to absorb radiation and thus can reduce or prevent sunburns. So, in a sense, getting a tan can be good for your health if you expect to be exposed to UVB rays often and intensely.
3. Your Tan Literally Sheds Off of You
At the end of the hot, sunny season, tans fade naturally as a part of this same scientific process. Melanin production causing darker pigmenting of the skin cells is no longer triggered because exposure to UVB rays is reduced with the changing seasons. At the same time, those cells which have been darkened in the tanning process shed off of the body -literally.
In just about one month’s time, most people’s skin has completely shed a layer and replaced a new layer of cells on the surface. So, once the pigmentation process of the season ends and about 28-30 days have passed, all of those “tanned” cells have naturally departed from the body.
Burnt skin cells complete this process faster as they are damaged and the body works to remove them faster. What many people refer to as “skin-peeling” after sunburn is the result of the skin working to shed layers of damaged cells quickly.
4. You Can Cause a Tan to Fade Faster
Some people find that as the end of the summer approaches, their skin continues to react to UVB rays, producing a deeper tan. Those tanned cells still have about a month or so to shed. This timeline is too long for many people who prefer to return to their normal skin tone as soon as the summer ends.
Fortunately, there are several ways to remove the darker pigmentation and tan skin cells faster. For example, some people apply lemon juice to their skin because of its natural bleaching properties. Lemon juice is also very good for cleansing the skin, especially when sugar is added.
Another method people use to fade their tan faster is to apply yogurt to affected skin areas. Yogurt helps to tighten pores, reducing the ability of UVB rays to reach the cells and trigger pigmentation. Aloe Vera, potato, and cucumber are also natural remedies for reducing sun tans when desired.
5. Your Tan is Connected to Your DNA
Although there are many methods for getting a tan and even for causing it to fade, ultimately effectiveness and unique cycle your body operates on is determined by your DNA. It is your genetics that determine what your cells contain -including melanin.
Your unique body chemistry also influences how your skin cells respond to and even protect against exposure to UVB rays and radiation. So, if you always say you tan like your mom and not your dad, you may be more correct than you thought.
Unfortunately, the connection between tanning (which involves exposure to UVB rays) and genetic mutations related to skin cancer are high. Skin cancer is typically caused by a combination of environmental factors (like extensive exposure to the sun) and genetics.
Some people’s genetics are known to predispose their skin cells to react poorly with the sun. For instance, a person with pale skin and freckles (like many red-headed individuals) are commonly born at higher risk of the cells reacting poorly to radiation. As a result, many are people with these traits are at greater risk of getting skin cancer, too.
6. Tanning Can Lead to Cancer
As skin cells are exposed to UVB radiation to the point that the melanin cannot absorb it and turn it into a healthy tan, more than just a sunburn occurs. In fact, even during the tanning process the exposure can lead to this issue: the exposure can alter the DNA is the cells it reaches.
If the DNA is altered to create a new “message” it can lead to a mutation. That mutation might be skin cancer. For many people, the mutation does not present itself as cancer until after the age of 50.
Different types of skin cancer include:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
7. Acne Can be Affected by Tanning
A popular myth suggests that tanning helps to reduce instances of acne. Many people try to stay tan during the fall and winter to help keep their acne in check as a result. However, the myth is false.
Darker, tanned skin may help hide acne better. It does not, however, reduce the occurrences of acne or make the skin any healthier at all. In fact, the sun exposure and dry out cells. Consequently, many people have more breakouts, especially when their tan naturally fades and dried out cells move up to the surface.
To prevent post-tan breakouts, moisturize skin as your tan begins to fade. You can rehydrate those dry cells to keep your skin healthier and clearer.
8. Your Tan Can Cause Your Skin to Age Faster
Most people don’t think about it, but every time you get a suntan or sunburn, your skin cells must go through quite a process. All that work and change, especially when damage is involved, can wear skin out.
Skin that has been exposed to lots of radiation and endured excessive tanning and burning (especially year round with no natural break) often ages faster. Even at younger than expected ages, the skin can begin to wrinkle and sag due to all of the stress put on the cells.
Only tanning during the summer can reduce the amount of stress put on those cells. It’s healthier to allow tans to fade naturally by winter and to let the skin cells rest and regenerate for months in preparation for the coming sunny days.
9. Unnatural Tanning Carries Extra Risks
Obviously, tanning carries several risks. One of the reasons that tanning is best when the tan is obtained naturally and fades naturally is that using unnatural tanning methods carries extra risks. For instance, using a tanning bed can:
- Eye Damage
- Immune System Suppression
- Skin Cancer
- Sustained Skin Cell Damage from Constant Exposure
10. Your Skin and Your Health are connected
As your tan fades, focus on your health, including your skin health. Not only will this help to prevent acne breakouts and make you feel better all winter long, but it will also prepare your skin for a better tan next year. One method is to consume Vitamin D, which many people are low on in the winter since it is most commonly absorbed from the sun. Diets offering this Vitamin will help protect against diseases and build stronger bones and teeth, for instance.