All About Suntans and Tanning

Why an article about suntans and tanning? Bodybuilders need tans because darker skin shows off their cuts better. Those of us who don’t really need suntans still want them. Why? Because a nice even tan makes us look vigorous, active…healthy.

This article will cover everything you need to know about suntans and tanning. Yet the notion of a “healthy looking” suntan is a complete misnomer. The sun lifts our spirits, warms us and brings a blush of pink to our cheeks. It also works to rob us of our looks and our health.

Suntans And Tanning – Ultraviolet Rays

Simply put, the ultraviolet rays of the sun are our skin’s worst enemies. They cause the skin to wrinkle, to sag, to become freckled and discolored. It ends up looking dry and leathery. In the long run, sun exposure is the single biggest cause of skin aging. Not to mention it is also the prime culprit in most cases of skin cancer.

As a report from The Dermatology Foundation notes, skin cancer increases in incidence the closer the population lives to the equator. Typically, with those who are of fair skin and light eyes the most vulnerable. Reduced sun exposure will reduce the risk of skin cancer. The seeming attractiveness of having a tan must be balanced. You should have the awareness that a deep tan leads to wrinkles in the future.

The Good News

There’s good news! It’s never too late to protect your skin from the sun. There are safe ways to get a tan, thanks to the science of sunscreens. What’s more, studies now reveal that the skin literally repairs itself over time. Even a man who spent all of his teen years and twenties basking in the sun each summer can save his skin. The key is by starting to protect it in his thirties.

Suntans And Tanning – Smart Sunning

Dermatologists tell us that sun exposure is not simply a matter of lying on the beach. It’s also playing tennis, going to the ballgame or walking to and from the office. Men who are regularly exposed to the sun should use a light, lotion-based sunscreen. Use it as an aftershave balm. The throat, chest, ears, and the backs of the hands (where age spots often first appear) should all be protected. Also, the top of a bald head. Look for a product that contains PABA, zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

It takes a while for sunscreen to sink into the skin. Therefore, it’s best to put it on for 15 minutes to half an hour before going outdoors. It also makes sense to stay out of the sun between 10 am. and 2 p.m. Why? That’s when two-thirds of the day’s ultraviolet rays reach the earth.

Suntans And Tanning – How To Choose A Sunscreen

You need to know your SPFs. That’s the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, which companies use to label their sun products. The SPF ratings range from 2 to 15 (usually 2, 4, 6, 8,10 or 15). The number indicates the strength of the sunscreen. That is, how long you can stay in the sun and not get burned. Sunscreens protect you from much of the sun’s damage. Still, they do not prevent you from getting a tan. The tan you get with sunscreen will often take longer to achieve. It will also be a longer-lasting tan. Finally, it will be less likely to peel unattractively, as a sunburn often does.

An Example

An SPF of 2 means you can stay in the sun twice as long as you could otherwise. Two is the lowest SPF typical of “dark-tanning oils”. They offer the absolute minimal protection. Are you someone who burns easily? Then wearing an SPF of 2 is not going to help you. You will simply get a bad burn in ten minutes rather than in five!

What SPF Do You Need?

Choosing the right SPF is important for suntans and tanning. The SPF you need depends on two basic factors. First, how easily do you burn? Second, how much sun exposure you have had already. A suntan offers some, but not much, protection against burning ultraviolet rays. Contrary to popular belief, dark or black skin doesn’t make you immune to sun damage. It may take the sun longer to wreak havoc on your skin. Not to mention, you won’t be able to totally avoid its ill effects.

The critical point in choosing your SPF is to use a stronger one during the first few days you’re in the sun. Most men do the opposite, trying to get as much sun as possible in the first few days at the beach or on vacation. Yet the first two or three days are the time when you can get badly sunburned, because you have no protection. It takes the body a few days to build up its natural defense of added pigment (or melanin) in the skin. Even if you don’t begin to look tan for a while, don’t let that lull you into thinking you are not getting any sun. Rushing things will just result in a bad burn.

Suntans And Tanning – More Than One Product?

Take full advantage of the sun. Protect your skin while still getting some color. To do this, you may need more than one sunscreen product. Try a higher SPF for the first week or so. Once a slight tan builds up add another with a lower SPF. This will protect slightly tanned skin. It also allows it to darken further. Your sunscreen collection should include a complete sunblock. For example, an SPF 15. This will be needed when you plan on spending the whole day outdoors. Or, at the beach (more on water plus sun later).

In general, the following SPF strengths work best for the six skin types doctors have identified. A warning, however. Always switch to a higher SPF in tropical sunshine, when close to the equator.

Suntans And Tanning – TYPE I

Always burns easily, never tans. SPF 10 or 15. (Don’t even try to tan; your skin will simply not take on a brown color).


Always burns easily, tans minimally. SPF 10, then 8 once you have been out in the sun a week or longer.


Burns moderately, tans slowly to light brown. SPF 8, then 6.

Suntans And Tanning – TYPE IV

Burns minimally, always tans well to medium brown. SPF 8, then 6.


Rarely burns, tans to dark brown. SPF 6 to cut down on ultraviolet exposure.


Never burns, deeply pigmented naturally. SPF 6 to cut down on ultraviolet exposure.

What about SPFs 4 and 2? I don’t believe in them. Not unless you use them in the spring or fall. That’s when the sun is less intense. In the heat of summer, they simply do not provide enough protection.

Beyond SPF’S: Application Is The Key

It’s important to reapply your sunscreen often. Also take breaks from the sun to allow your skin to recover.

In general, I don’t advise any man to lie in the sun for hours on end. No matter what hios skin type is. If you insist on basking in the sun, do so for more than 20 minutes at a time. Then, get up and go into the shade for 10 minutes. Rinse your face with cool water. Then apply a moisturizer. Finally reapply your sunscreen. And drink a cool glass of water. The heat and sun are dehydrating, and your body needs to replace its fluids.


It’s important to reapply sunscreen during the day. Especially if you perspire heavily or go in and out of the water. Many sunscreens are waterproof or water-resistant. This means they will provide some protection while you are swimming. It also means they will rub off when you come out and dry with a towel.

Always be certain to reapply sunscreen before you go swimming. In clear water, 90%-95% of the ultraviolet rays that hit the surface can reach your skin. This is true even if you’re swimming or snorkeling three feet under! Read the label to see how often your brand of sunscreen needs to be applied.

How To Apply Your Sunscreen!

When it comes to suntans and tanning, how you apply your sunscreen is important. It will help determine not only how even your tan is. Also how much of your face and body you have protected from damage. Don’t forget the sensitive skin of the nose, ears, and shoulders. If you don’t have a full head of hair, the top of your head. The sun heats down on us from above. Those are the first spots it hits.

The lips are also sensitive to sun damage. Look for a lip balm that contains sunscreen and reapply it often. Be aware, too, of the delicate skin area between the lips and the nose. That’s where unwary sun worshippers often get a painful burn.

Don’t Forget The Eyes!

The eyes need double protection. The skin around them is the most sun sensitive and vulnerable skin. In addition, the eyes themselves are susceptible to damage from ultraviolet rays. Look for new sunglasses that shield out the sun’s glare. They should also offer protection from ultraviolet rays. When in the sun for long periods of time, put cold compresses on your eyes to avoid puffiness. This often follows a day at the beach. When going sailing, wear a big hat plus sunglasses. The glare of the sun off the water is as damaging to your eyes as it is to your skin.


  • Avoid using perfume or cologne when you’re in the sun. Any spot you dab it on may be sensitive to the sun. Likewise, avoid shaving right before or after sun exposure. Your skin is much more sensitive at that time.
  • Certain kinds of medications can cause the skin to have a photosensitive reaction. This means that even a few minutes in the sun can cause an extreme burn or rash. Check with your doctor first. That’s especially true if you are being treated for acne. Also keratosis, diabetes or high blood pressure. Also if you are taking antibiotics, tranquilizers or diuretics.
  • Be aware that the higher the altitude, the closer you are to the sun. That means the more intense its effects will be. In the mountains in the summer, the air may feel cool. Still, the sun will be quite strong, there is less air to filter the ultraviolet rays. Likewise, skiers are especially prone to severe sunburns. They need to be careful to apply sunscreens and richer moisturizers. This guards against burning and moisture loss.

Suntans And Tanning – More Precautions

  • Watch what you eat in the heat of summer. Heavy or greasy foods can cause upset stomachs. What your body needs most is wate. Drink plenty of it! Also eat water-rich foods like fresh fruits, melon, apples and vegetables. Many men love to drink beer at the beach. Sorry, that’s not the best choice. Beer can be fattening. Like any alcoholic beverage, it robs the body of water. It does not help meet the cells’ fluid needs. Choose instead fresh squeezed orange juice, sugar-free lemonade, club soda or mineral water. Salty snacks will make you thirstier. Choose a frozen yogurt or a tall glass of iced tea. Also a cold platter of fresh vegetables is a good choice.
  • Don’t head for the sauna or the steam room immediately. Especially after being out in the sun. Your skin will already be overheated. Adding more warmth can intensify a sunburn. It can even bring one on. Instead, save the sauna for the day after. That’s when you’II want to take a day off from sunning.
  • The water in a pool, ocean, or when sailing acts like a mirror. It intensifies the ability of the sun to heat and burn your skin. Are you spending a good deal of time near the water? Then switch to a higher SPF than usual. Also, keep reapplying it. Even men who say they never burn often are taken by surprise. Often when they spend a day on a boat. What about a man with fair skin? He should wear long sleeves shirts, long pants and a hat when on a boat. That is, if he doesn’t want to be heading into the cabin after an hour in the sun!

Precautions, cont.

  • You can never be too young or too old to suffer sun damage. If you have children, teach them the sun protection habit when young. They’ll thank you for it when they’re older. Likewise, you never outgrow the need for sun protection.
  • Never use a reflector. It is the equivalent to baking yourself in the oven! Likewise, never go out in the sun with baby oil or coconut oil slathered on your skin. That’s like turning your body into a French Fry.
  • Clouds seem to mask the sun. But in truth they only block the light, not the ultraviolet rays. You can get a worse burn on a cloudy day than a clear, sunny one. That’s because you will be lulled into not feeling the sun on your skin. Apply sunscreen whenever you’re spending time outdoors in the summertime.
  • Some people develop an allergy to PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid). That’s the main ingredient in most sunscreens. If you do, look for one of the new PABA free formulas. You can ask our pharmacist if you are uncertain.
  • If your skin tends to be oily, avoid greasy or heavy sunscreens. They can block pores and encourage blemishes. Instead, choose a light lotion formula. Some are even labeled ‘for oily skin’. Is your skin very dry? You may want to apply a light moisturizer over your sunscreen for additional protection.

Avoid intense sun exposure. It’s the only way to insure your skin will be given a fair chance. Whatever your ethnic background, be aware that the skin ”remembers”. Fair-skinned individuals may show the effects of sunbathing sooner. Every skin type is vulnerable. Each and every exposure to ultraviolet rays takes its toll. In most cases, it takes years for the damage to truly become visible. By that time, it is often too late to right the skin’s wrongs.

If You Overdo It: Sunburn Relief

Sun puts the skin on the defensive. Tanning is a retaliation process. It’s the marshalling of the skin’s melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells. This protects the under layers of the skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Light-skinned individuals have far less pigment producing potential. Those with olive or black skin have more. Whatever your skin type, too much sun can mean sunburn. Even black skin can get burnt. Although the darker your complexion, the longer it will take.

A sunburn is most obvious and uncomfortable on the skin’s outer layers. It’s also a reflection of damage under the skin’s surface. Sunburn indicates a breaking down of the skin’s connective fibers. This is the type of damage that eventually leads to wrinkled, sagging skin. A sunburn, in other words, is the augury of aging skin to come.

Severe Sunburns = A Lot Of Pain!

A severe sunburn, like any other major burn, can be painful. At its most severe it can land you in the hospital. The best thing to do for a mild sunburn is to cool your skin. Try a soak in a lukewarm bath. Mix in three teaspoons of baking soda for added skin soothing. If the skin is inflamed, you may want to take two aspirins for their anti-inflammatory effect.

Compresses soaked in cool water, milk or iced tea can soothe burnt facial skin or puffy eyelids. Some people opt for anesthetic sprays or lotions sold in drugstores. it is not uncommon to develop an allergic reaction to these.

Suntans And Tanning – Masques & Moisturizers

Does your skin feel hot to the touch? Apply a head-to-toe plain yogurt masque. Leave on for 10 minutes. Then shower off with cool water. Avoid rubbing your skin with a loofah, washcloth, or a towel. This will increase skin tenderness. Instead, pat skin dry and apply moisturizer. Use one with aloe, if possible, as these plant extracts are natural burn healers.

If your skin is peeling, apply a rich moisturizer to lessen surface flakiness. Supplement at night, perhaps, by a moisturizing mask. Never pull off about-to-peel skin. The skin will fall off when it is ready. Pulling it off too soon will reveal red, raw skin and cause irritation. Has your skin become very dry? Then add three cups of whole milk to a lukewarm bath and let your body soak for 10 minutes.

Any blistering or highly painful sunburn should be brought to a physician’s attention, not self-treated.


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