The Science of Suntans – A Brief Breakdown

In our latest blog we take a look brief at the science of suntans, why they happen and what we can do or eat to help protect ourselves from the harmful side of the sun’s rays. Read more below.

Spending a long time out in the sun can have dangerous effects on your skin – but one of the more interesting ones is the process of tanning – a natural reaction to sunlight as one of our skin’s defense mechanisms.

The sun produces ultraviolet rays, which aren’t fully reflected or blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, which means a form of radiation is passed from the sun to this planet’s surface. For us tanning is an adaptation to cope with the sun’s radiation – although in this case it’s a little different a form of radiation than the green glow sci-fi kind. However, these rays can cause skin cancer with overexposure, so it’s a good idea to cover up.

Melanin produced by the body reacts to sunlight’s UV radiation by absorbing and dissipating almost all of the UV which it receives – negating the worst of the radiation’s effects. If your skin is naturally darker, you’ll have a more notable defense against the sun – although it’s still not 100% reliable on its own, and doesn’t provide the benefits of using commercial tanning lotions.

Sun tan lotion steps in to fill in the gaps where natural or newly produced melanin fails to protect – which is why it’s always beneficial to use a lotion, even if you’ve already got plenty of melanin in your skin. It’s also useful to help your skin stay moisturised and avoid it drying out in warm arid conditions. All in all, using a sun tan lotion as a precaution is a good idea, even if you’re already tanned or dark skinned.

There are other ways of bolstering your natural sun immunity too – melons, papaya and guava all have beta carotenes and lycopene which help your skin cope with sunshine better. In fact, there are a whole host of natural compounds which keep your skin healthy before and after being in the sun – usually fruits and teas.

However, despite our body’s natural sun protection systems, and even if you slap on the sun tan lotion, the best defense from the sun for your skin is still staying in the shade, no matter what we eat or the products we buy.

Your body isn’t 100% effective at everything, including avoiding damage from sunlight, so remember to stay in the shade as much as possible this summer and have fun in the sun.