Tanning has joined drinking, smoking and reckless driving in the ranks of 'Dangerous Vices'. Yet who can picture summertime without a bit of sunshine. We're not saying you have to give up your place in the sun, but you need to take some simple precautions to save your skin and still get a bit of that radiant glow that makes you look and feel healthier. After all, we know you're healthy on the inside (because you train regularly in the Club). Now it's time to get healthy on the outside too.
The science of tanning
When you're in the sun, melanocytes produce the pigment melanin to protect the skin against sun damage. Increased exposure equals an increase in melanin. This physiological reaction to ultraviolet light is what we call tanning.
Learn your ABC's The ultraviolet light responsible for tanning is divided into UVA (A for ageing) and UVB (B for browning). Although UVA is weaker, its presence is consistent throughout the year and penetrates the skin deeper - wreaking havoc at the cellular level. UVA is responsible for causing fine lines, wrinkles and sagging. UVB isn't any friendlier - its so-called browning magic is also responsible for burning and redness. Both UVA and UVB cause cancer.
Healthy skin defends itself better against UV damage, whereas poorly conditioned, dry skin just burns, peels and flakes away. Sun tanning also triggers dehydration, which exacerbates dryness, leaving your skin taut and uncomfortable. While the cosmetic pitfalls of peeling are only temporary, the long-term risks of skin cancer are certain. Give your skin a helping hand two weeks before exposing yourself to the sun with a specifically formulated supplement that contains antioxidants to mop up free-radicals.
Before you hit the beach
Prepping your skin reduces seasonal wear and tear and helps extend the lifespan of any tan. Polish away dry skin with an exfoliator. Any tan, real or fake, looks better on smooth glowing skin.
Boost your defenses
To ensure your skin gets the nourishment it deserves, try moisturising with a body cream or lotion that includes antioxidants. Body lotions have become part of our grooming requirements, even for men, but nobody will know if you don't tell them - although they may secretly marvel at how smooth your skin looks. Women will marvel too, none the wiser.
Find your Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
Enthusiastic sun worshippers reluctant to spring for suitable sun protection learn about sun-damage the hard way. Sunburnt, blistered and peeling flesh is the least of your worries in light of the long-term risks of skin cancer, cataracts and melanomas. Protection factors vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Dermatologists advise nothing less than SPF15 for even the briefest sun exposure; anything less means you're office-based and never see the sun unless it's a screensaver on your PC! A higher SPF is always advisable over a low one. SPF ratings on products refer to UVB, as there is no standardised rating for UVA in SA yet (although this is soon to change).
What's your number?
Enlightened people know that their Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is determined by how their skin reacts to UV-exposure and is a guide to how long they can stay in the sun before it starts to burn. Let's imagine that normally your time is up after 10 minutes unprotected exposure. Your SPF is calculated by multiplying your time (10 minutes for example) by the SPF factor you are using (say, SPF15) which will give you 150 minutes (or 2½ hours), extending your tanning time before you begin to burn.
The golden tanning rules
Expose yourself gradually
Gradual exposure gives your skin time to acclimatise to increased UV-exposure and protect itself against damage. Researchers have proved that better tanning results can be achieved when exposure is gradual rather than a crash course in ultraviolet damage. Marathon tanning also generates excessive free radicals, causing irreparable damage.
Apply sunscreen frequently and liberally
Sunscreen should be applied in light, even strokes to form a barely visible barrier between your skin and the sun. Rubbing it in is like rubbing it where the sun don't shine. And if you under-apply sunscreen you may just as well take your chances without it. Apply generously and reap the protective and moisturising benefits. Both sweating and swimming dilute SPF, offering less protection than when it was first applied. Towel drying wipes more away. Sunscreens need to be re-applied every two hours, or after swimming and towelling to ensure consistent protection. Ingredients lose their protective powers after exposure.