Is any amount of tanning actually safe?

Each year, as soon as school gets out, my family and I usually hit the beach for a week of relaxation and fun in the sun.

And, each year, in the weeks leading up to our vacation, I look at my paler than pale Irish skin and wish for a beautiful tan that would make me look great in a bathing suit (and worry about how much sunscreen I’m going to have to pack to keep from spending the week with a painful sunburn).

This year we’re opting for camping, but still, where there’s a lake, there’s sun.

Gearing up for the trip, I unloaded my worries on my hairdresser. Her advice?

Start getting out in the sun now so that I would have a base tan started before the trip to avoid the burn…

That got me wondering — is getting a base tan the way to go and how much tanning is really safe?

So, I set out to find out.

Here are the answers…

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When the tanning starts, it’s already too late

According to Dr. Roxana Daneshjou, a dermatology resident at the Stanford University School of Medicine there is absolutely NO safe level of tanning.

That was not what I wanted to hear.

But the fact of the matter is… If you want that golden beach goddess look, you’re better off getting it from a bottle than the sun.

That’s because your skin doesn’t even begin to tan until those dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays have actually traveled through your skin and begun to cause problems with your DNA. (If the idea of skin cancer came to mind when you just read that, you’re right on target.)

And, if you’re fair-skinned, like me, the risk is even greater.


Because you may not tan at all until after you burn. And, while you may think of that burn as just an irritating, painful inconvenience, it actually signifies that your skin cells have become so sun-damaged that they have died!

But, what about that idea of getting a base tan in order to use the extra melanin to protect your skin from burning?

Dr. Daneshjou says that’s completely false.

Since skin damage starts at the very beginning of the tanning process, you’re doing a ton of damage for only a tiny bit of protection — not a good trade off after all.

And, if the risk of skin cancer isn’t enough to deter you from tanning, here’s one more nail in the coffin…

The damage to your skin cells that comes along with that golden glow you’re looking for can also cause you to look old before your time.

You see, when you’re out in the sun, you’re exposed to both UVA and UVB rays — and while both are a problem for your skin, those UVA rays actually break down the natural collagen in your skin, leaving your skin to sag and wrinkle.

And, while your tan will fade, the damage it leaves behind won’t.

Protecting your skin

The best way to protect your skin from those damaging UV rays that kill off your cells and cause premature aging is to always use sunscreen.

You want to look for one that provides broad spectrum (both UVA and UVB) protection.

Also, avoid sunscreens that contain an ingredient called retinyl palmitate (a version of Vitamin A) since it’s been associated with an increase in skin tumors. And, skip the spray on sunscreens that can lead to lung problems when they’re accidentally inhaled.

And, if like me, you still want a golden glow (but want to skip the damage actual tanning brings), try an organic self-tanning lotion made with vegetable-derived DHA to get a beautiful tan with zero sun exposure.

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  1. Your Summer ‘Base Tan’ Is Wrecking Your Skin —
  2. EWG’s Sunscreen Guide — Environmental Working Group


Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.