Sunless Tanning Products and Tanning Bed Use Linked in Teens
About 1 in 10 teens has used a sunless tanning product, like spray tan or self-tanner—a safer way to get that sun-kissed look, a new study suggests. But those same teens are nearly three times more likely than their peers to visit indoor tanning salons and to suffer multiple sunburns each summer, according to a study published in September's Archives of Dermatology. American Cancer Society researchers surveyed 1,600 adolescents ages 11 to 18 and found that sunless tanning products were most popular among older girls. Tanning, whether indoors or outdoors, prematurely ages the skin and also raises the risk of skin cancer. Last year, the World Health Organization put tanning beds on its list of cancer-causing carcinogens, alongside radon and tobacco smoke. Exposure to ultraviolet rays is considered the most avoidable cause of skin cancer, Reuters reports.
If you already have a tan, is there anything you can do to minimize the damage to your skin?
How to Minimize Wrinkles and Cancer Risks
Yes and no, says Jennifer Stein, an assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center. "The body can repair some of the DNA damage caused by excess sun exposure on its own," she says. That means you shouldn't be too concerned about elevated skin cancer risks from one bout of tanning. On the other hand, she adds, studies have linked habitual tanning to a greater risk of skin cancer, so take care to avoid prolonged sunbathing in the future, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes.
To be on the safe side, she also recommends checking your skin every few months for new spots, moles that bleed, or growths that have changed in shape, color, or size. Not only do these checks help catch skin cancer early, but they can also help spot precancers, which can be removed before they turn malignant. "[Suspicious] growths tend to look rough, scaly, and pink," says Stein.
Minimizing wrinkles after a suntan is possible. "Use topical therapies daily consisting of retinol and other antioxidants," says Ariel Ostad, a New York City-based dermatologist. Antioxidant-laden wrinkle creams can help neutralize free radicals, harmful molecules produced by the sun's ultraviolet rays that damage skin cells and cause wrinkles.
Stein says exfoliating before bed with a facial sponge or scrub is a good way to slough off dead skin cells and rejuvenate skin to minimize the effects of tanning. Exfoliation also encourages new production of collagen and elastin to help keep skin supple and prevent wrinkle formation. You could also try lotions with alpha-hydroxy acid, which peel off the top layer of skin. The trouble with those, however, is that they make skin more sensitive to UV rays and more prone to sunburn, which would ultimately leave you worse off. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that alpha-hydroxy users take care to wear a wide-brimmed hat or strong sunscreen to prevent excessive sun damage. An effective sunscreen, says Stein, is one that blocks both UVA rays, which cause tanning, wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancers, as well as UVB rays, responsible for burns and skin cancers. She recommends using a cream that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which effectively block both types of UV rays. [Read more: Too Much Sun? How to Minimize Wrinkles and Cancer Risks.]