Thursday, April 5, 2007

Darker Side of Tanning

Here's the myth: it is overexposure, or sunburn, that might be the cause for any of the negative things you read about sunlight and health. Overexposure and sunburn are not synonymous! In reality, tanning is an art that converts animal skins into leather. Exposure to UV light turns on the melanocyte color producing cells as a response to injury to the epidermis. This is the opposite of vitiligo, the skin disease Michael Jackson suffers from, in which those same cells lose the ability to produce pigment of any kind.

Historically, a tanned body belonged to the working classes who labored out-of-doors, while fashionable pale skin belonged exclusively to the upper classes and aristocracy. For many centuries and well into the nineteenth, a whitening agent for the face was used, composed of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide. Arsenic was commonly employed starting in the mid-tenth century. It brings a whole new meaning to the idiom "suffering for beauty."

Who single-handedly changed this? Designer Coco Chanel inadvertently gave the Paris fashion world the tan after cruising from Paris to Cannes on the second Duke of Westminster's yacht early in the 20s. (She liked his clothes.) The suntan had arrived as the symbol of wealth and leisure. A tan in the winter meant the bearer had enough money and status to vacation in an exotic, warm climate.

The search for the perfect tan has led to basking in the sun, wipe-ons pioneered by Coppertone, tanning beds, and now spray-on airbrushed tans. The first greased Little Miss Coppertone was not Jodie Foster, but rather a 3-year-old girl in pigtails named Cheri Brand, daughter of the Bronxville illustrator who sketched the original 1959 ad campaign: Don't be a Paleface!

And Hollywood jumped in, too, glamorizing a tan with technicolor film in the late 30s. The perennial tanning idol of the screen was immortalized by Doonesbury's Zonker and his entry into the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open. The current rage for Paris Hilton-types is the sunless tan, again pioneered by our orange friends at Coppertone. DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is a chemical refined from sugar cane which temporarily colors the skin by reacting with the keratin protein found in the top layer. DHA is considered completely safe, but it gives no protection from sun damage: it doesn't stop UV light.

Speaking of ultraviolet light– both UVA and UVB rays are harmful to the skin. Tanning beds employ UVA radiation, which actually penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB. The research unequivocally points to UV exposure as the source of common skin cancers. The rate is rising by leaps and bounds. At highest risk are those with light eyes/skin/hair or a family history of skin cancer, but anyone can move into the high risk category just by tanning. Basal cell (affecting deepest layer of the epidermis) and squamous cell (middle layer of epidermis) carcinomas are the most common of all cancers. Malignant melanoma, though less common, is the most dangerous, the leading cause of skin disease death. If you get one, you will get more.

In the end, tanning early on makes for a hagged-out look later in life: sagging skin, deep wrinkles, uneven tone, broken blood vessels, and age spots (macules and solar lentigines). Take a good look at the hands, decollete, and neck of any tanned woman over 40. It isn't pretty up close. Plastic surgeons delicately refer to it as "photoaging."

Lest you think baking in the sun is done and over, just think of how many Hollywood stars are photographed on the beach in bikinis. Do you think they've got on their SPF 40?

Tanning the old-fashioned way invites paparazzi. It's easy to find popular stars on the internet wearing not much more than their sunglasses: Jennifer Aniston, Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Hurley, Natalie Portman, Janet Jackson, etc. (But you never did really think of them as role models, now did you?)

Children and adolescents are thought to be the most vulnerable because their skin cells are dividing and changing more rapidly than those of an adult. One blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's lifetime chances of developing a melanoma. And, as the ozone layer thins, exposure to natural UV radiation exponentially increases. So learn to love your sunscreen.

And all you prom kids? Go ahead, slap on a tan and have fun– just don't do it via a tanning booth.

Hear Anne live on the Kevyn Burger show 11:00 to noon every Thursday featuring Knifestyles of the Rich & Famous.


Anonymous said...

I struggle with not wanting to tan. Mainly because tanning hides the cellulite and adds definition. I'm a white girl with pigment envy!

I just found your blog. I'm such a sucker for this kind of Hollywood info. It's sickly fascinating- isn’t it?
I'm a fan of FM107 too!
Glad to have found you.


ANNE said...


Here is a way to dissuade yourself from tanning. Look at a celebrity cover in a printed news magazine, like the Sunday inserts in the NYTimes. Those hyper-realistic photos are published warts and all, invariably of older men but occasionally older female VIPs as well. Look at the facial skin and note what's happened to the pigment. The only way to get an even, dark color much beyond one's teens is to a) be born with it, or b) spray it on. Develop a discerning eye and use it, in the supermarket check-out line, the coffee shop, wherever, and you'll begin to see what a surgeon sees: thin, crepey, aging skin with uneven pigment. Then go out and buy the tan if it makes you feel better.

Au Natural` said...

Ms. Anne you are on point with your article.. and you are about the funniest woman on radio…I discovered your talk show while scanning the radio for some easy listening and Voila! You had me in stitches with your dialog..and I learned a few things about the knife styles of the rich .

It is amazing to see and hear about the number of Caucasians who would just loooove to have a tanned skin year round and work so hard to get it...any which way regardless of what basic skin science tells them.
The opposite is also true, I also know about those with tan or darker skin who “hide” from UV at all cost, just so they can get a tad paler and look a little more “white” !
As you would’ve guessed I have skin that’s the color of fresh brewed tea. Women often come up to me to touch my exposed arms and such.. and ask “What tan colour are you using?” and I say the colour I was born with.

What you say about skin is so true, I too can pick out a good tan job from a bad tan job, a good sun tan (if there is such a thing) and those leathery, flakey, crepey over the top reddish, blotched tans.
To CZ (Pigment Envy)….don’t spend so much time worrying about tanning to camouflage your fat issues, instead get your derriere to the gym and work that off. You Will start feeling better about you pigments soon after. Remember the old saying “Beauty is only skin deep” well I ‘m here to assure you that it’s bloody lie…the truth is beauty goes all the way to the bone, if you’re colourless on the inside you will be colourless on the outside…


BienBien said...

I can't believe that they are allowed to do that on beaches. It is wrong, i know they want a good tan, but does it matter if your boobs are tan. Not like that's what everyone sees everyday. Why do they want to show them to everyone. I want to hide them, and just show them to someone special. I don't think that they should be allowed to do that.
I know i like being tan, but tanning is tested to increase the risk of wrinkles at a young age. Do you really want wrinkly boobs. or even risk them getting sunburned. you could get serious skin cancer in one of the only spots you shouldn't.
If these women want to get their boobs tan, then they should go to one of those nude beaches in France!!!!

Josh Rachlis said...

Fantastic article! It should be required reading for... well, for everyone! It's so difficult to convince people these days about how bad tanning is for them. From now on, I shall direct them to your blog posting. :)

ANNE said...

Yep - today's tan lines are tomorrow's liver spots. Glad you agree!