Sunday, June 5, 2005

Tanning's Light Side

Source: Jennifer Hogan - Island Sun Times


With the temperature rising and clothes slowly shedding, it is normal to want a healthy-looking tan. In recent years, researchers have found that tanning in moderation can be beneficial, as well as help treat certain medical conditions. The tanning of the skin is the body’s natural defense against sunburn. When the skin experiences sunburn, there is damage to small blood vessels and elastic fibers, causing a breakdown of collagen. The darkening of the skin acts as a barrier of further damage to the skin caused by sunburn.

A recent national study found that Americans are not getting the recommended daily levels of vitamin D, an essential nutrient necessary for healthy bones. “Vitamin D deficiency is something that is diagnosed in our office everyday,” said Lisa Doyle, a physician’s, assistant at Auburn Orthopedic Specialists. “It is especially apparent here in the northeast where we do not get enough sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, bone and muscle pain. I have seen this deficiency in patients in their 20s, as well as older patients who are more prone to it.”

According to Doyle, people with dark skin are at the most risk for vitamin D deficiency, and a lot of their patients are African-American. “Dark skin doesn’t absorb the light efficiently, causing the deficiency to be more of a problem for darker skins,” Doyle said. Unlike other vitamins, D is not found in many of the foods we eat. Sunlight is the body’s only natural and reliable source of Vitamin D.
The skin soaks up the ultraviolet rays in the sunlight and converts them into the much-needed vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to better absorb calcium. It has long been known that vitamin D is necessary to rid of bone diseases such as rickets, a bone-bending disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. “Rickets is on the rise again,” Doyle said. “It was a big thing long ago, but we are now seeing a resurgence of it.”

There has been increasing evidence that vitamin D may protect against several cancers including breast and colon cancers, as well as many other medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis and heart disease. Sunlight can also have positive effects on certain skin conditions. Doctors often prescribe tanning for chronic acne and psoriasis. “One thing that I have noticed about tanning is that my skin doesn’t seem to get as oily as it used to,” said Angela Barbagallo of Locke. “I don’t seem to experience as many acne breakouts since I have been going to the tanning salon.” Barbagallo has been tanning for two years and says that she visits the tanning salon three days a week.

Experts now believe that tanning in moderation can have health benefits that far outweigh the risks. That is not to say that people should all go out and get as much sun as possible; tanners must still use caution. Too much exposure to the sun still carries health risks. “It is recommended that 15 minutes of sunlight, without the use of sunscreens, every couple of days can be enough to sustain adequate vitamin D levels,” Doyle said. “The use of sunscreens and sunlight through glass can prevent ultraviolet rays from penetrating the skin. There has not been any scientific or medical proof, but we suspect that indoor tanning may offer similar positive effects as direct sunlight.”

Healthy, glowing skin is essential to maintaining positive self-esteem. Tanned skin has been found to create the illusion of health and success. Barbara Switzer, owner of Barb and Company tanning salon believes indoor tanning is a stress-reliever for many of her clients. “Several of my clients refer to their tanning sessions as mini vacations,” Switzer said.

In addition to health benefits, exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can have a positive psychological affect as well. Sun exposure is often a prescription given to depression patients. Experts have said that ultraviolet rays found in moderate exposure to sunlight may increase the release of feel-good endorphins, causing a boost in emotional good health.

“I mainly tan for beauty reasons,” Barbagallo said. “I think that it makes me look thinner and healthier. When I feel that I look good, it boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel good about myself. The tanning experience is very relaxing, and it has a soothing effect on me. I feel invigorated when I am through with a tanning session.” Bravo!–IST

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