Brake before you bake

June 21, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

"As skin doctors, we want to foster the idea that you don't have to have a tan to look healthy," Hagerstown-based dermatologist James A. Schiro said.

Yet individuals who crave that bronze glow can get it safely from a bottle or an airbrush - rather than from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays produced by the sun and such artificial sources as tanning beds and sunlamps. The vast majority of skin cancers are due to unprotected UV exposure, according to information from the American Cancer Society at on the Web.

Ultraviolet radiation is the stream of invisible high-energy rays coming from the sun. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the form of radiation associated with sunburn, but ultraviolet A (UVA) - the type of radiation made by tanning beds - actually penetrates deeper into the skin, Schiro said.


"Tanning beds are extremely bad," he said. "UVA is not strong enough to burn you, but it penetrates deeper so it causes deeper wrinkling and can contribute to skin cancer."

The three types of skin cancer include: squamous cell carcinoma, which affects the outer layer of the skin; basal cell carcinoma, which affects the skin layer under the squamous cells; and melanoma, which affects the deepest layer of epidermis, according to information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute at on the Web. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 55,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and nearly 8,000 Americans will die from the disease.

More than one way to get vitamin D

Schiro gives little credence to claims that people who shield themselves from the sun run the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

"It only takes a few minutes of sun exposure to get enough vitamin D - or you can just drink milk," he said. "The risk of skin cancer or sun damage leading to wrinkling, et cetera, is certainly far more of a concern than the availability of vitamin D."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people who plan to be in the sun for more than a few minutes to use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. SPF 15 allows only one-fifteenth of the sun's UV rays to penetrate the skin, Schiro said. Children and individuals with a history of skin cancer should use sunscreen with higher SPF, he said. Schiro added that children younger than 6 months old should stay out of the sun.

Sun damage to skin accumulates throughout life, so it's important to start protecting skin early, he said. Studies have suggested that avoiding sunburns - especially in childhood and adolescence - may reduce the incidence of melanoma skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"Most of your sun damage is actually done by the time you're 18," Schiro said. "Every little bit you get counts against you when you get older. It's never too late to start practicing good sun protection."

Sun-tanning alternatives

Sunless tanning products - lotions and creams applied to the skin to create a bronze gloss - and spray-on "tans" are much safer options than sun-tanning and tanning booths for getting that sought-after tan skin tone, Schiro said. But be aware that products that darken the skin's pigment do not protect users against the sun's UV rays, he said.

Sun-less worshippers can get airbrushed at the Brazil Glow Bar within plastic surgeon Salvatore DiMercurio's Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Center at Robinwood Medical Center in Hagerstown.

Brazil Glow Bar owners Chris and April Smith said the airbrush tanning process is safe and simple:

  • A technician uses airbrush technology to spray the client with a self-tanning formula that contains the active ingredient dihidroxyacetone, which reacts with amino acids in the skin to cause a chemical reaction that makes the skin's upper layers turn brown.

  • The client waits 12 hours for the formula to develop on the skin.

  • The client then showers to bring out the new color, which generally lasts five to seven days due to natural exfoliation.

Other Brazil Glow Bar airbrush tanning options include using a combination of different products - such as glycolic, copper and caffeine - to create the illusion of less cellulite, more defined abdominal and pectoral muscles, and enhanced cleavage.

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