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The body's natural defense to the harmful UV rays of sunlight is a sun tan. A sun tan results from the production of melanin, (which absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light and thereby protects the sensitive skin cells. The presence of melanin creates a visible darkening of the skin. Overexposure to the sun (or sun lamps or other sources of UV rays) beyond that which the melanin in the skin can absorb leads to skin damage (see sunburn), wrinkling, aging, and potentially deadly forms of skin cancer.

Despite this, as a society, we embrace the sun tanned look as "healthy" and "active." So how do you get a "healthy" tan?

  • Sunless tanning lotions work by simulating the color of a tan without the skin producing melanin. These work by interacting with the outer layer of (dead) skin cells to produce the desired color. This means, however, that sunless tans do not provide any UV protection and so leave your skin subject to sunburn just as if you had no color at all. They also "fade" faster because the color flakes off with the surface skin cells.
  • If you insist on a real sun tan (perhaps because of the protection melanin provides from UV), you must accept the fact that all tanning damages your skin to some degree. It is the exposure to UV that prompts the production of the protective melanin as a defense. So, the best way to tan is through a gradual exposure (over a week or more) to increasing amounts of sun light to allow time for your skin to produce melanin and maintain a sufficient level of protection.

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