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Tanning Process

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How Does the Skin Tan in the Sun?

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Tanning begins the moment you step out into the sun for most people. As UV rays penetrate the skin, it starts to break down DNA in the body. In order for the body to protect itself to prevent further damage to your body, it starts to produce melanin. The more melanin in your body, the darker the body becomes and the more protected you are from the sun. So someone who has spent a lot of time in the sun can stand out in the sun for longer periods of time without the risk of sunburn. A suntan needs to be gradual, so it is better to tan for only a little bit at a time and with the right sort of protection like using sunscreen.

What is Melanin in the Skin?

Melanin is produced to protect your skin from sun damage. The moment you are hit with UV rays, either from a tanning bed or from the sun, the body tries to protect itself from the rays by producing melanin. There is a type of cell in your body called melanocyte and this produces melanin, but it can only produce so much at a time. In some people it doesn’t produce melanin at all or very little of it. Those people have a sensitive skin type and shouldn’t stay out in the sun too long at all without moderate protection. Each person actually has about the same number of melanocyte cells in the body but only people above skin type I have melanocyte cells that produce more than enough melanin to create a tan in the body.

Are Melanin Cells?

Melanin is actually a pigment in your skin. There are two sorts of pigments the melanocyte produces. Phaeomelanin is a red or yellow color and eumelanin, which is brown in color. In some people, people with red hair, the skin produces more phaeomelanin than eumelanin. The melanin pigment is not produced in most people with fair skin as it is only produced when activated by the sun. This is why someone who can tan fairly well may end up with fairly white skin when not exposed to the sun.

What About Melanin Production for People with Dark Skin?

In the case of people outside of Caucasians, melanin production continues even without regular exposure to the skin. The darker the skin, the more melanin is being produced in the body. The skin is better adapted to being out in the sun longer. Those with a darker pigment can still get sunburn if overexposed to the sun, but the melanin already in the skin will protect it better than those with lighter skin. Even if the skin is not exposed to the sun, it will still keep melanin in production to a certain extent.

How to Get a Fast Tan

Many people want to know exactly how to get a fast tan under the sun. Unfortunately, the body cannot produce enough melanin in time to tan completely in a couple of hours, enough melanin that would produce a deep tan with some people. However, with regular exposure in short durations, the body will produce enough melanin in as little as five to seven days to create a nice glowing tan on people who have the ability to tan. The best way to get a fast tan is to spend a few minutes a day in a tanning bed. The regular direct exposure will actually tan your skin faster. Your body will tan faster because only five minutes in a tanning bed is like two hours of being exposed to the sun. If you need a fast tan, you could try self tanning lotion, but it is only a temporary solution as it doesn’t help produce melanin in the body.

So Ultraviolet Sunlight Helps Produce Melanin?

Any sort of ultraviolet light helps the body produce melanin, whether it is sunlight or light from a tanning bed. Sunlight has three different sorts of ultraviolet rays. UVA is also known as black light and is what helps produce a tan. UVB tends to burn the skin though it can help produce a tan too if it penetrates deep into the skin. UVC rays are filtered out by the atmosphere and don’t tend to reach the body for the most part. With exposure to sunlight, the body is exposed to different waves of UVA and UVB rays all the time. This means it is very hard to tell which rays you are getting on your skin and which aren’t. With a tanning bed, you are generally exposed to direct ultraviolet rays and usually you are getting more UVA rays than UVB. Tanning beds are designed to be a healthier way to get a tan by controlling the amount of ultraviolet light you are exposed to. With sunlight, you are unable to control what happens to the ultraviolet light and therefore you can’t predict how long to stay out in the sun for.

What about sunburns?

If you get sunburn, the sunburn itself is not actually ‘damage’ to your skin, though it does hurt. It is actually how the body reacts when exposed to too much sunlight and there has been too much damage to your skin, breaking down DNA. When sunlight hits the skin, it actually starts destroying DNA. To protect the skin, melanin is produced but it takes time to help produce enough melanin. If exposed too long the body becomes too damaged. This results in the body causing your sunburn. It is actually a process for the body to help prepare itself. The red part of your sunburn is actually blood filling up the capillaries in your skin. If you touch your sunburn, it will go white because you are essentially pushing out the blood. It will fill back in after a few seconds. The blood helps to bring in additional cells that will fight the damage done to your skin. Sunburns can be very painful, more harsh sunburns actually cause blisters to form on the skin. Sunburn should be prevented, which comes with proper education about sun protection, which can come in the form of a natural tan produced by the body.

Protect the Skin from Sunburn

To prevent sunburn, limit your exposure to the sun. Sunburn can happen to most skin types. The darker the skin, the longer it takes for the sunrays to damage the skin but it can still happen. This doesn’t mean you should avoid the sun; UV rays have more benefits than simply causing the body to tan. Instead, be aware of how long you are exposed for and wear sunscreen. Sunscreen helps to block out UVA and UVB rays in various lengths. Depending on the sunscreen you are wearing, it won’t prevent the body from tanning but it will help prevent sunburn if applied properly. For people with ultra sensitive skin, sun block is available. Unlike some sunscreens, sun block keeps the sun from reaching the skin at all. Sun block prevents any sort of ultraviolet light from penetrating the skin.

Will Clothes Protect Me from Sunlight?

In most cases yes, but do not rely on your clothes along to protect your body. With most modern styles, little is there in clothing to protect your skin. Popular clothing items, like t-shirts, actually have tiny holes in it. A thin enough material with a loose weave like a cotton t-shirt actually will only do so much to protect the skin. This is why even with a t-shirt on, over exposure to sunlight could cause your shoulders and back to become sunburn, if not the rest of your body. If you are wearing something light like a t-shirt outside, remember to wear sunscreen underneath your clothing as well.

How to Heal from Sunburn

If you have already damaged your skin, there is little you can do to stop the sunburn. Sunburn is your body’s naturally way of healing overexposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light. If you think your skin has been over exposed, keep out of the sunlight. You will be able to see sunburn within four hours of being exposed. It will completely develop in eight to 24 hours. You might not know if you have sunburn right off but it is better to be safe and get out of the sun if you can. Do not go back out into the sun if you have sunburn, even if you wear sunscreen. If the sunburn has blistered, see a doctor. Otherwise, to cool off sunburn, use Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera comes from a plant and you can find either the plant or gels or lotions at the store. Apply it to the skin and it will moisturize and help sooth the skin while your body does its job. For severe sunburns, you should see a doctor immediately.

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