Spray tanning: the safer alternative to UV

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Spray tanning has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent months and years, as people look for different ways to achieve the traditional tan. In times of uncertainty about the risks of over-exposure to ultraviolet light, this is one way of looking good without the worry.

Tanning is growing in popularity all the time. In earlier ages, a suntan was a sign of low socio-economic status, because only the poorer classes were forced to spend hours working in the fields under the hot sun, whilst wealthier landowners and businessmen could avoid this discomfort. Now, the situation has reversed. In Britain, traditionally a country of high rainfall and short summers, a tan is a sign of comparative wealth, since it is most easily achieved with a holiday to warmer climes – typically, the warmer the more expensive. However, rising awareness of skin cancer has led to other ways of gaining that glowing tan, including the use of spray tanning systems.

Spray tanning avoids all of the dangers of normal tanning. Regular tans are achieved through the action of ultraviolet light on the skin; the skin reacts to the light by producing elevated levels of the pigment melanin, which protects it from damage. The effect is the same whether the ultraviolet light is provided naturally, by the sun, or artificially, using the ultraviolet bulbs of a sunbed.

The danger with any form of ultraviolet tanning is the same: although with careful monitoring a limited exposure to UV light is safe (due to the gradual build-up of melanin in the skin over time), over-exposure causes damage to the skin which can result in burning, peeling and, in the worst cases, the deeper harm that can turn into melanoma in later years – a potentially life-threatening condition. Unsurprisingly, more and more people are choosing not to risk their long-term health but still want the healthy-looking tan, hence the attraction of spray tanning. As a method that avoids UV light altogether, spray tanning is not linked with cancer.

Spray tanning does not simply involve spraying or ‘painting’ the skin with dye. It is actually a chemical process that alters the skin. However, it is important to remember that spray tanning does not confer any advantages in terms of skin protection: although it appears that you have a tan, melanin is not responsible for the colour change. People who have used spray tanning will also need to put on sunblock if they are spending time in the sun, since they are just as prone to burning – and therefore skin cancer – as they were before the process.

In that respect, it’s worth being extra careful when you are considering tanning. Spray tanning has many advantages – not least that it is a fast and simple process, and it does not require that you spend lots of time time lying under a source of ultraviolet light, whether that is a sunbed or the sun itself. And, since it involves a chemical change in the skin, rather than simply being a layer of pigment sat on the surface, the effect will not wash off. It is therefore comparatively long-lasting. However, it is easy to forget that it has no protective value: the effect is purely cosmetic.

This is all that most people want. A suntan has a certain cachet to it; it gives the appearance of health and vitality, and many people feel better about themselves if they look better. But it is still only a skin-deep change: if you are out in the sun for real, don’t forget to use sunblock. With that one caveat, spray tanning is a great alternative to the potential problems of ‘real’ tanning.

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