Q. What happens to skin when it tans?
A. Although the dangers of tanning indoors and out are widely known, most people continue to tan because they cannot see the effects directly. In fact, it can take years for the actual damage to show up.
Since the damage occurs so deeply within the skin cells, the symptoms such as wrinkles, dark spots, and cancer are a delayed effect that become visible only after years of damage has already been done.
When exposed to the sun's UV rays, your skin's melanocytes produce melanin, the dark pigment that creates a tan. A tan is your skin's response and attempt to prevent further damage to sensitive cells caused from the sun.
As your skin is repeatedly exposed to this damage, melanin remains, causing discoloration. UVA rays will penetrate deep into your skin and damage collagen, which is the protein that holds your skin together in a firm, smooth way. Once collagen is damaged, it cannot rebuild itself, thus resulting in wrinkles and pigment damage.
What causes sunburn? When UV rays penetrate into the deep layers of skin, living skin cells are killed. In response to the trauma, your body's immune system increases blood flow into the damaged areas so white blood cells can heal and remove dead skin cells. This blood flow is what causes your sunburned skin to become warm and red.
Contrary to popular belief, a tan is not "healthy." A tan is a sign that significant damage has been done to the skin. There is so much substantial evidence that sunburns and tans lead to DNA damage and actually increase the chance of developing skin cancer and premature aging.
Be smart and wear sunscreen.
Need help dealing with sun damage?
Seek the advice of our UW Health Transformations Jeune Skin Care aestheticians: Request a free consultation