Jessica Dean and Robin Rodriguez

           So, it’s that time of year again when the sun in shinning brightly, your class load lightens up and suntanning becomes an extracurricular activity practiced as often as possible.  But be careful, tanning in an indoor salon or catching a few rays at Pismo or Shell Beach, though it may seem harmless, can have detrimental effects on your skin.  You could wind up getting a really painful sunburn or end up with wrinkles and cancer later on in life, especially if you choose to go without sunscreen.  

            It was only fairly recently, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that researcher’s began linking excessive sun tanning with skin cancer.  And at that time, it was hard to convince the general public.  During this time, many people associated suntanning as a means of protection from cancer.  Even today, in the 21st century, people believe that a golden tan is good for the skin.  Some will even go as far to say that it’s “healthy,” while scientific research takes the other side, claiming that there is no such thing as a “healthy tan.”  Tanning in essence is your skin’s way of reacting to damage already done by the UV rays from the sun.

            UV, or ultraviolet, rays come in three varieties from the sun: UVA, UVB and UVC.  UVC rays are of little concern to us, because they are absorbed by the upper atmosphere and don’t reach the earth’s surface. UVA rays consist of longer wavelengths that penetrate deep into the dermal layer of skin. Limited exposure to UVA rays causes skin to tan.  UVB rays’ wavelengths are much shorter, and they affect the outermost layers of skin.  UVB rays are the ones to watch out for.  They are known as the “burning rays” and are also the most harmful. 

            You may be wondering then, what are some healthy alternatives to getting that sun-kissed glow without increasing your chances of developing skin cancer by baking in the sun or at a tanning salon?  Well, you can opt to drive to your nearest drug store to pick up a bottle of self-tanner.  These days, there are many different forms including lotions, gels, wipes, sprays, and now, even a pill!  The technology has also come a long way, so you don’t have to worry about those tell-tale orange streaks that so many of us associate with self-tanner.  The pill works by stimulating the pigment to change without sun exposure, creating a golden glow with out the harmful rays from the sun.

            There are many ways to get that golden tan and sun-kissed look with out exposing yourself to the harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun, and they are preventative measures against skin cancer.  On the other hand, if you must be in the sun, always apply sunscreen before going out, use an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and try to avoid peak hours when the UV rays are at their highest, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Lastly, enjoy the beautiful summer months and protect yourself at all costs, you don’t want to wind up having wrinkled, leathery skin or, more importantly, develop skin cancer.

Jessica and Robin are senior nutrition majors and Nutrition Peer Health educators.  They can be reached at


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