How to protect yourself from the sun.

Tanning , the right way!

There's no doubt that most of us feel better when the sun shines. Sunlight heals and strengthens our bodies, and is an important source of vitamin D – essential for healthy nails, teeth and bones.

Most of us look better, too, with the golden glow of a tan. But this short term beauty

bonus has to be offset against the long term effects of over-exposure to the sun. They do not show up immediately and by the time they do become obvious, it's too late to do anything about them. So always give your skin extra care and attention in the sun.

Is brown beautiful?

Less than a hundred years ago, and for centuries before that, a tan was considered vulgar! A pale skin was every woman's ideal as it showed that she didn't have to work out of doors. Fashions changed, however, and recently a tan has become an important

beauty 'accessory'. Although today a tan is still seen by many as an enviable beauty feature, dermatologists now agree that over­exposure to the sun is in fact harmful to the skin and is a prime cause of premature ageing.

What happens when you tan?

A suntan is actually a protective mechanism within the skin. Melanin – the substance which determines the skin colour – is produced when certain cells in the epidermis are exposed to ultra-violet rays from the sun. When these cells reach the surface, they appear as a tan, which is the skin's protection against burning.

Burning is the most obvious risk from over­exposure to the sun, though with care sunburn can be avoided. Another danger is increased dryness and a thickening and coarsening of the skin. But the greatest

damage occurs in the lower layer of the skin -the dermis. Unlike the epidermis, this layer does not renew itself and any damage done will therefore be permanent. Within the dermis is a network of fibres which cushion and support the skin. The sun's rays which penetrate the dermis break down these fibres and make them slack. As a result, the skin becomes less firm and less supple and lines and wrinkles start to appear on the surface. This deep damage is invisible at the time it is caused but becomes more obvious in the long run.

The right way to tan

Whatever the risks may be, the fact remains that many of us still want to acquire a tan, so it makes sense to proceed with care when in the sun.

Just how brown you become depends on your natural colouring, as this indicates how much melanin you have in your body. As melanin is the pigment which determines the colour of your hair and eyes as well as the colour of your skin, all three together provide a good guide to your personal 'tan-ability'. If you have olive skin, with dark hair and eyes, then you'll tan more easily and more deeply than if your skin and hair are fair and your eyes blue. If you are a light-eyed, fair-skinned, freckle-faced redhead, however, then you probably won't tan at all – but you should take extra care to prevent yourself burning.

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Another important factor to be aware of is your skin's sun-tolerance – that is, how long you can safely stay in the sun without burning. Knowing this will help you to calculate your own 'tanning timetable', and

to choose sun tan preparations with the right sun protection factor for your needs.

Timing is all important. The time of day determines the strength of the sun; it is strongest between 11 am and 3 pm and the burning rays are at their most intense between these hours. In the earlier and later parts of the day the sun is weaker and the risk of burning is reduced. The safest times of all are before 8 am and after 4 pm.

The time of year counts too. Obviously, the sun is stronger in summer, as it is nearer to the earth. It's important to remember, though, that summer comes sooner in some holiday locations. The nearer you are to the equator, the stronger the sun – and the greater the risk of burning. There is also more risk of burning at a very high altitude -even on a winter holiday, when the snow reflects and intensifies the sun's rays. Reflection also occurs from sand and water, and even from bright white walls. All these factors increase the strength and intensity of the ultra-violet rays.

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It is often thought – wrongly – that you will only tan or indeed burn when you can see the sun shining. Unfortunately, this is not true at all – the ultra-violet rays are still around even on hazy or overcast days, so can still produce a tan or even sunburn. And a light breeze, although it may make you feel cooler and more comfortable, is no protection at all against the sun.

So, always aim to tan gradually. This not only reduces the risk of burning, it also produces a tan which will last longer. It takes about 8 days to develop enough of a tan to protect you against sunburn. Begin with a very short period of exposure. If you are fair-skinned start with 10 or at the most 20 minutes on each side of your body – front and back. If you are darker, you can start with up to 25 minutes front and back. If your first exposure causes no discomfort or reddening, then you can increase the time by about one third each day. Remember to count in all the time that you spend in the sun as exposure time. You may not be trying to get a tan when you walk along the road to the beach, but your skin won't know the difference!

After the sun

When your skin has been soaking up the sun all day, it's liable to feel tight and dry. And, of course, it will be dry because the sun is dehydrating. Put back some of the lost moisture, and soothe and lubricate your skin with an after-sun lotion. Applied lavishly after every tanning session, this will not only keep your skin soft and smooth, but also help you to hang on to your tan just a little bit

longer. As the top layer of dead skin cells are shed, so too is your tan. You won't notice this if the sun continues to shine, as you'll keep right on tanning; but when the sun has gone, or when summer's over, your tan will gradually fade away. Dry skin flakes off more readily and more rapidly than skin that's kept moist and supple – so regular moisturising lets your tan last longer.

Always apply after-sun lotion or moisturiser after sunbathing

Faking it!

If you can't or don't want to tan, but like the effect of tanned skin – then a fake tanning product is the answer for you.

These products contain a chemical substance which reacts with proteins in the skin's outer layer to produce a tanned effect -usually within 3 to 5 hours. Though the result differs from a real tan in that the process does not involve melanin production, it will last about the same length of time as a naturally-acquired tan (about 8 days) and will fade gradually just as a real tan does.

Fake tanners usually come in the form of a lotion or a foam. Great care must be taken when applying either type to avoid streaking and patchiness and to achieve a natural-looking result. It's important to start with clean and well-moisturised skin. Apply the foam or lotion as smoothly and evenly as you can – a fine sponge makes an excellent applicator. Use long, smooth strokes rather than dabbing movements and don't attempt to rub the foam or lotion into your skin, it should just be spread over the surface. Dry areas of skin will take much more colour from the product than moister, smooth skin, so you should apply it very thinly indeed to rough patches on elbows, knees and heels. Some fake tanning products also incorporate a cosmetic colouring agent so that you can see where and how well you have applied it. Wash your hands well afterwards, or they will be stained very darkly indeed when the colour develops. Remember, it's better to apply too little, as you can always repeat the process for a deeper colour, than to overdo it and have to wait some time for the effect to fade.

If you want to build up a natural-looking tan (perhaps in preparation for your holiday) using a fake-tanning product, apply it every

other day for a week. If you want to wear a fake tan all the time, then keep it going with weekly applications.

You can also fake a tan with cosmetics which stain or colour the skin like make-up, rather than by a chemical reaction. Their effect is temporary and will wash off with soap and water.

Caution: Remember, when wearing a fake tan of any kind, that these products do not as a rule contain any sunscreening agents (the label will tell you if they do) so they give your skin no protection against burning. If you go out in the sun, always apply a protective sun care preparation over your fake tan.

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