Looking To Get Tan? The Dangers Of Sunbathing

Posted on: 5 April 2016


You may look forward to sitting out in the sun this summer to get that golden tan. While a certain amount of sunlight on your skin is healthy, too much can create serious health problems. The most common form of cancer is skin cancer, with more than nine thousand people in recent years losing their lives to it. Before you overdo your tanning, you may want to see how the sun contributes to this dangerous health problem and the current treatment options.

What You Can't See Can Hurt You

The dangerous part of the sunlight is the ultraviolet (UV) light that you can't see. There are three forms of UV light that make up the sunlight that hits your skin:

  • Ultraviolet A - The UVA waves constantly hit your skin and can travel deep to damage tissue under the skin. These waves pass through clouds, glass, and light clothing.
  • Ultraviolet B - The UVB waves are most numerous in the summer and can be blocked by glass and clothing. They affect the superficial layer of your skin.
  • Ultraviolet C - Most of the UVC waves are blocked by the Earth's atmosphere so few get through to hit your skin.

Sunburns are caused by the UVB waves while the serious skin cancer cells come from exposure to the UVA waves penetrating your skin.

Skin Damage from Sun Exposure

Your skin is effected in a variety of ways by overexposure to the sun. Sunburns damage the top portion of your skin, leaving it unable to protect deeper tissues from UV wave exposure. A more severe sunburn dries out the upper layers of skin leaving dead cells that block oxygen from getting to the deeper tissues.

Eventually carcinomas -- or cancer cells in epithelial tissues -- can form on the outer layer of skin from too many burns, but they don't extend into the deeper tissues; melanomas are cancer cells deep in the skin that can spread to other organs causing a severe risk to your health.

Treating Skin Damage

Burns and dry skin are treated by re-hydrating the skin slowly and keeping it covered to prevent infection as the skin heals. If treated quickly, the risk of permanent scarring is reduced. If you tan a lot, you may be at a higher risk for both carcinomas and melanomas. Thankfully both can be treated.

For superficial carcinomas, the cells can be cut away in skin cancer surgery. They can also be scraped off, frozen, or destroyed by radiation treatment. For very small carcinomas, an ointment that kills cancer cells may be used on the skin.

Since melanomas are cancer cells deep in the tissue layers, they must be surgically removed. A certain amount of tissue around the tumor must also be removed in case the cancer cells have begun to spread. This can leave significant scarring. The dermatologist may recommend radiation or chemotherapy after the surgery to make sure all cancer cells have been destroyed. If you see any changes in your skin -- such as in moles or freckles -- after tanning, seek out a dermatologist ASAP. If you are severely burned this summer or have tanned a lot, it wouldn't hurt to see a dermatologist to make sure your skin is still healthy.