Debunking 6 Common Tanning Myths

Vanguard Dermatology sun tanning Debunking 6 Common Tanning Myths

Tanning has become a popular pastime, especially during the summer. Not only do people enjoy the feeling of sunshine -- many also like the glowing effect it has on their skin. However, dermatologists and doctors have long warned people against tanning, pointing to various associated health risks. And yet, millions of people participate in this practice each year. Is the appeal of tanned skin so strong that participants would rather throw caution to the wind? Are most people who tan simply ignorant of the facts? Or are these risks overblown? Let’s shine some light on 6 common tanning myths.

Myth 1: Tanning is Safe

Human behavior is heavily biased in more ways than one. When we see many people acting a certain way, we often automatically assume that the action is safe, justified, good, reasonable, and/or desirable. So, when we witness hundreds of individuals tanning on the beach, it’s hard to believe that so many people are willingly putting themselves in harm’s way. And yet, that is the case. While not everyone who tans will end up with severe, permanent sun damage or skin cancer, exposing one’s skin to the sun for prolonged periods of time greatly increases one’s risk of these outcomes. In short, tanning is not safe or healthy -- it is inherently risky.

Myth 2: Too Much Sun Only Harms Those with Fair Skin

It’s no secret that the sun has visibly stronger effects on those with pale skin. That doesn’t mean the sun’s rays can’t harm those with darker complexions, though. While it’s true that having lighter skin puts you at greater risk of sun damage and skin cancer, anyone can end up with sun damaged skin if they don’t take the proper precautions. The extra melanin responsible for darker skin provides some protection from UV radiation, but not all of it. So, even if you “tan easily” or don’t visibly tan because of your darker complexion, too much sun still puts your skin at risk.

Myth 3: Sunscreen is Bad for Your Health

Some people are naturally wary of ingesting or applying any synthetic substances. Sunscreen does contain a number of chemicals, but over the several decades these ingredients have been in use, little evidence has been found that they’re toxic. Oxybenzone, the UV-absorbing chemical found in most sunscreens, may have some effect on hormones, but the research remains inconclusive. Individuals who wish to avoid this chemical can apply sunscreens that contain metals instead, and that aren’t absorbed by the skin but rather rest on top of it. In any event, no, sunscreen is not bad for your health -- on the contrary, wearing a quality, 30+ SPF sunscreen is a key component of skin cancer prevention when spending time out in the sun.

Myth 4: Tanning Makes Your Skin Look Younger

There’s no denying that tan skin can be beautiful -- however, if you want younger-looking skin, tanning can actually have the opposite effect. Over time, regular tanning can dry out and prematurely age the skin via mutation, accentuating wrinkles and age spots as well as resulting in “leathery” skin texture. This phenomenon is known as “photo-aging,” and can be difficult, if not impossible, to undo.

Myth 5: Tanning Beds Aren’t Risky

The indoor tanning industry is quite successful, especially in places that don’t receive a lot of sun. And because these businesses can operate legally (with regulation, of course), you might think that they offer a safe way to tan. Remember, though: tan skin is damaged skin. Period. While you can avoid sun damage by tanning indoors, you’re still signing up for UV damage, which, is really the same thing. The only difference is the source of said ultraviolet light.

Myth 6: Sunburn is the Only Concern

Getting burnt by the sun is unpleasant, almost immediately so. Tanning, however, often doesn’t yield negative short-term effects. For this reason, many people think that, as long as they avoid getting burnt, they can stay out in the sun for as long as they’d like, and that no harm will come to them. However, sunburn is merely one form of sun damage -- once again, tanned skin is another. You might not feel pain after tanning, but your skin cells have still been damaged, and the change in your skin’s color is the receipt.

If you’re tempted to tan this summer, keep in mind that you do so at your own risk. While wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade, and limiting your time outdoors might keep you from getting the darker, glowing skin you desire, these actions will help you steer clear of sun damage and the future prospect of skin cancer. The experts at Vanguard Dermatology can give you more advice about taking care of your skin this summer and year-round. To learn more about our providers and services, send us an email at, or book an appointment online.

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