The therapeutic exposure to sunlight has origin in ancient Chinese and Egyptian medicine. Recently, however, there has been much controversy as to whether or not tanning is a good idea, whether or not it is healthy. The popularity of tanning beds
has greatly risen with adults, yet skyrocketed with image-obsessed teens. Although many warn it against, people are starting to urge others to tan, stressing the numerous benefits, for both health and self-esteem. Tanning in and of itself is not unhealthy; contrary to what many think, tanning is very healthy for you in a number of ways.
“Tans are natural shields against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which can damage skin tissue in the form of a sunburn (as well as cause cancer in the long-run). Exposure to ultraviolet rays causes certain skin cells to produce the pigment melanin, which darkens through oxidation. Enough beach bumming and those cells will migrate closer to the skin’s surface and produce more melanin, further darkening the skin into a suntan. It’s no wonder our bodies have developed the ability to produce melanin. The pigment absorbs ultraviolet radiation and defends against further penetration of skin tissue.” (8) Tans are great because they are our body’s natural protection against sunburns, and without them we would be much more susceptible to burns and skin cancer. This is why, during the summer, people get burned the first time they go into the sun – because their bodies are not yet prepared to fight sunburns. Tanning is necessary to prevent against burning and hurting the skin, and tanning beds are great and easy ways to tan in a controlled atmosphere.
Beginning with physical appearance, tanning adds a young and healthy glow. In addition, a tan makes one look more muscular and defined, and will help hide visible veins, body hair, and impurities in or on the skin. With the intense pressure to look one’s best, many resort to tanning to give themselves a young and healthy look, but do not completely understand its full effect. Tanning has proven to help many skin conditions, from acne to eczema, and even psoriasis, “a fairly common and extremely persistent skin disease … the typical lesion of psoriasis is a red, sharply circumscribed patch with silvery scales.” (11) In fact, eighty percent of psoriasis sufferers who tan show improvement as a direct result of their exposure to the ultraviolet light. “The skin disease had plagued Candy Knox since childhood. Each winter, the red, scaly patches indicative of psoriasis would reappear on her arms and Knox would once again contend with discomfort and feelings of insecurity. But a few years ago her dermatologist recommended a surprising treatment that has helped Knox cope when cold weather hits: indoor tanning. ‘My doctor said my best bet was to move to Florida or go tanning when I needed it,’ said Knox, who now makes periodic trips to the tanning booth. ‘It really seems to help whenever I have a breakout.’” (5)
Sunlight has proven to affect over one hundred of the body’s function. Exposure to light has proven to lower the resting heart rate and blood pressure. It also lowers cholesterol because the body uses the liver’s cholesterol as raw material to produce vitamin D. Sunlight reduces stress and can help the immune system, as well as increase the skin’s resistance to infections. With exercise, sunlight has many beneficial results, as it heightens physical performance. Sunlight can increase cardiac output, as well as increase energy, endurance, and muscular strength. Lastly, it is proven that “sunlight stimulates the thyroid gland, which boosts your metabolism.” (9)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is also known as winter depression, an affective mood disorder that stems from lack of sunlight. Most SAD sufferers experience regular mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depression symptoms during the winter months. Dyane Riel, for example, was born and raised in a small Canadian village where it snows in October and stays dark for almost half the year. Riel said many of the locals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. “A lot of people I knew were depressed all the time” Says Dyane. “They opened tanning shops in town and everyone uses them. Many people go south for vacations as well. These things are great therapy for them.” (5) Also, exposure to bright light has been found to alleviate some symptoms of Pre Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS, such as mild depression, mood swings, physical discomfort, irritability, and social withdrawal.
Looking at other health benefits, tanning has been shown to release endorphins, a chemical that produces a happy, pleasant feeling. It also produces vitamin D, a vitamin many people are deficient in, which is necessary for calcium absorption in the body. Tanning beds are great because one can go at any time they are available and get that sunlight they have been lacking. One of the benefits of going tanning is that the exposure to UVB light is the body’s natural way to produce vitamins. A great percentage of today’s population is vitamin D deficient. People get between ninety and ninety-five perfect of their vitamin D through sun exposure, and people are going outdoors less and less as the years go by. For example, the vast majority of people works indoors, drives cars instead of walking or biking, and exercises inside a gym as opposed to running or working out outside. One of the greatest benefits of tanning is the increased production of vitamin D, which is an excellent vitamin for a number of reasons.
Research has recently shown that individuals with healthy vitamin D levels are much less likely to develop certain forms of cancer, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer. These life-threatening cancers are much more common in those who do not receive regular sunlight, as vitamin D plays a role in slowing the growth of the cancer cells in these kinds of tumors.
When vitamin D is missing, your body releases another hormone, parathyroid, to pull calcium out of the skeleton. One result of this is osteoporosis, a bone-brittling disease which leads to approximately one million hip or bone fractures a year. “[Boston University medical school professor Michael] Holick believes the high rates of osteoporosis among the elderly can be partly traced to the fact that many spend little time outside and they’re diligent sunscreen wearers. Indeed, studies suggest that 30 to 40 percent of American and British elders with hip fractures were low on [vitamin] D. The problem could be remedied with the same ultraviolet lights that iguana owners use for their pets. ‘We don’t do this for nursing home residents,’ Holick says, ‘but we’ll spend 40 bucks for lights for an iguana.’” (10)
Osteoporosis and cancer, however, are not the only health risks from vitamin D deficiency that we should worry about. “Current research indicates vitamin D deficiency plays a role in causing seventeen varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, and periodontal disease.” (7) In Finland, where the sun shows for only a few hours a day during wintertime, natives have the world’s highest incidence of Type 1 diabetes. In a study tracking ten thousand children, researchers discovered that those who had regular doses of vitamin D as infants were approximately 80 percent less likely to develop Type 1 diabetes than those who did not get enough of it. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is more common the farther one is from the equator.
Aforementioned Professor Holick “recruited 18 volunteers with mild hypertension and put them under UVB lights for at least six minutes three times a week. After six weeks, the amount of D in their systems had more than doubled and their blood pressure had dropped significantly – to normal for some.”
Tanning is undoubtedly good for ones health and appearance, as mentioned before, but many people question why tanning beds are so popular when the sun is free. However, there are a great number of reasons why tanning beds are superior. First of all, there are parts of the Earth that do not always receive as much sunlight as needed during the day for people to remain healthy. Professor Holick joked, “you could stand outside naked from the time the sun rises till it sets and you won’t make any [vitamin] D.” (10) The vast majority of people that do not already tan don’t realize that tanning salons have different strengths of beds, and customers can choose how long they are exposed to the UV rays. Tanners can use either the lotions sold at the store to enhance their tans or a light sunblock to lessen it, however exposure to UV rays from either tanning or the sun is greatly recommended by many doctors to treat skin conditions and prevent a vast number of health risks.
In conclusion, tanning is best in small doses, almost deemed necessary for a multitude of reasons. From the prevention of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness or wasting, birth defects, and periodontal disease to just wanting to look and feel better, tanning is a great way to stay healthy and look good.
11 “Psoriasis.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Volume 20. Chicago: William Benton, 1970.