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SEEKING THAT SUMMER GLOW YEAR ROUND? SKIP THE SUN AND TANNING BED FOR A “SPRAY TAN”: Leading dermatologist discusses the newest – and safest – way to achieve sunkissed skin sans the risks

Advanced Dermatology, September 2008 – Ever since Coco Chanel returned from a French yachting voyage with a suntan in 1920, women, men, and even young teens have revered tanned skin as a sign of beauty and good health. Yet, the truth about skin that is exposed to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays is just the opposite. Sun-damaged skin is prone to premature aging, causing wrinkles, uneven skin tone, enlarged pores and age spots. What’s more, UV exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, which strikes one million Americans each year – nearly double the number of all other cancers combined. Although many of these cancers are rarely life threatening, they all can be disfiguring if they need to be surgically removed from the face, shoulders, chest or other commonly exposed area. Melanoma, of course, is the deadliest skin cancer…and it is thought to be almost exclusively caused by sun exposure or use of tanning beds.

Fortunately, “spray-on tans” are a new alternative to “baking” on a tan that can provide a realistic, natural-looking tan without any UV exposure at all. Joshua Fox, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology, P.C. in New York and on Long Island, and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, explains, “Based on the available research, ’spray tans’ are a safe alternative to any UV-based tanning process, because they color the skin using an FDA-approved compound called DHA that simply tints the dead skin cells at the very top layer of the epidermis.” While a ‘spray tan’ does not actually fade, Dr. Fox points out, “it will disappear as the layer of skin is sloughed off – usually within a week.”

Getting the word out remains a challenge

“Despite the fact that ‘spray tans’ provide all the aesthetic benefits of a suntan without the serious dangers,” Dr. Fox notes, “recent research suggests that many sun-worshippers and tanning bed fans are still not getting the message.” For example, a study completed at Northwestern University and published in the April edition of Archives of Dermatology analyzed the knowledge, attitudes and behavior of young adults regarding indoor tanning over the course of 12 years. Researchers found that, between 1994 to 2007, the percentage of participants who knew that limiting tanning can help prevent melanoma actually decreased from 77% to 67% — a factor that coincided with an increase in the number of subjects who thought “having a tan looks better,” from 69% in 1994 to 81% in 2007. “Perhaps the most surprising statistic of all is that tanning bed use has remained at around 26-27% between 1994 and 2007, despite the fact that we learned during this time period just how dangerous these tanning beds can be,” Dr. Fox says.

In another recent study, researchers at Boston University Medical Center found that 44% of young adults surveyed had either used sunless tanning products like a ‘spray tan’ over the preceding 12 months or had planned to use them over the following 12 months. Unfortunately, these self-tanners were also more likely to use a tanning bed than those who had not used the sunless method. “There are certainly misconceptions and myths that still exist about the use of tanning beds, including the notion that the UVA rays in these machines are ‘healthier’ than UVB rays, but this is simply not the case,” Dr. Fox says. “In fact, UVA rays have been shown to penetrate more deeply than UVB rays, which are the main culprits in a ‘surface’ sunburn,” he adds.  UVA also promotes skin cancer, wrinkling and other bad effects on the skin.

A ‘spray tan’ can either be applied at home by oneself or can be applied in a booth in a salon by trained personnel, to ensure even coverage. There are many choices of spray-on products so one should try to match the color.  At a salon, the cost is usually between $25 and $40 per application, and the effects last about a week. After application, the tanning substance stays on the skin for about four hours before it can be showered off. While the compound itself is deemed safe, Dr. Fox offers two caveats: “’Spray tan’ participants should avoid inhaling the compound during application, and always remember that a ‘spray tan’ does not offer any significant protection at all from the harmful rays of the sun. In fact, DHA may make skin more sensitive and susceptible to UV damage – so a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is a must.”  But the DHA product itself – without sun exposure – is safe and recommended if used to avoid tanning.  Dr. Fox also recommends supplementing your diet with Vitamin D pills since you may not be getting enough supply from the sun.

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