Do you know how to tan in the right way to get all the benefits from time spent basking in the sun?
If you are like most people, you probably believe that you should avoid the midday sun and that you always have to apply a sun-protection (SPF) lotion before and several times during your time under the sun.
Unfortunately, this way of tanning is a guarantee for NOT getting any Vitamin-D benefits at all from the sun and if you read on, I will tell you why this is not the best way to tan.
But first, for those of you who are not interested in why and just want to know the short answer to the questions: How To Tan? How to Keep a Tan? How to Tan Safely? How to Tan Naturally?– here is the short version of how to optimize your Vitamin-D tanning.
How to tan “for good” – an easy-to-follow instruction for optimized Vitamin-D tanning.
Time your tanning and moisture your skin
The first few days you should tan during a short time (10-30 minutes depending on your skin-type and level of base-tan) in the middle of the day (when the sun is high enough for its UVB-rays to reach the earth) using a moisturizing, NON-SPF, Aloe-Vera-based lotion with ingredients that helps your body to create more melanin in a natural way. Lotions with SPF, contains chemicals that that filters away UVB and let through UVA, which gives you a surface tan, but probably causes more stress for the skin. So remember – with SPF – NO Vitamin-D!
The rest of the day, you can spend in the shadow, wear clothes, and, if you still want to be in the open sun, use a lotion with SPF15 for uncovered skin. Just be sure to be on the safe side of burning!
The more tanned your skin will get, and/or the more tanned you want to become, the longer time you can stay in the sun. However, 10-30 minutes every day are well enough to get maximum health benefits and minimum negative effects from the UV-light.
For your face and eyes
Use a moisturizing, Aloe-Vera-based lotion with SPF15 and anti-aging ingredients for your face and wear sunglasses that filter out both UVA and UVB.
Prepare your skin and keep your Vitamin-D supply constant
Before you travel, prepare your skin by having sessions (1-2 times per week) in a solarium with low-pressure UV-lamps that has a reasonable percentage UVB. This will also protect you toward Vitamin-D deficit between your vacations. The time for each session depends on how strong the tubes in the solarium are. In countries that follow the EU-norm you probably will need 15-20 minutes while in less regulated countries, 5-10 minutes might be enough. The operator of the tanning place should be able to advice you.
For those of you who want an even more detailed explanation, here is the background to the advice of how to tan above.
UVB is the source of Vitamin-D – but where and how to get it?
Your body starts to make Vitamin-D when you expose the skin to UVB-rays (280-315/320) nanometer wavelength). According to Prof. Reinhold Vieth, Dept. of Nutritional Science University of Toronto in an interview with Norwegian NRK 14.01.2010 ( http://www1.nrk.no/nett-tv/indeks/197528) , UVB-rays from the sun reach the earth only when the sun is above an angle of about 50° from the horizon. When the sun is lower than 50°, the ozone layer reflects the UVB-rays but let through the longer UVA-rays. (For those of you who want a full scientific explanation of UVB please see this document: http://uvb.nrel.colostate.edu/UVB/publications/uvb_primer.pdf)
Translated to some places on the globe and date/time it means for example:
In Copenhagen, Denmark (55.36N 13.00E) June 22nd (Midsummer) the sun will be above 50° from 10:10 to 14:15 local time of that day and at all only between May 6th and August th5 of the year (2010). The closer to the start and end-dates, the shorter time every day. Moscow, Russia, has approximately the same schedule. This means that from the beginning of August until beginning of May, you will not find any UVB in the nature, but since technology has given us an alternative through UV-lamps, we still can get enough of Vitamin-D in a natural way by visiting a solarium.
If you, as another example, want to travel to the Canary Islands in order to get Vitamin-D through UVB-light from the sun, you should do so only from February 17th to October 23rd.
Also, if you want to catch any UVB-rays during New-Year, you must go to a latitude below 17°N (that is south of, for example, Northern Thailand, Southern Saudi Arabia, Cap Verde. You can use Google Earth to find the latitude of “your” place of vacation). Dubai, a popular place for sunny holidays, is located on 25° north, and therefore only an option for getting UVB between February 10th to November 2nd.
However, even if you go to a sunny place, like, for example Phuket, Thailand, for your New Year vacation, you only have a chance to catch UVB between about 11 in the morning until half past one in the afternoon. Therefore, if you follow the advice of avoiding the midday-sun, you will miss this opportunity.
If you want to find the exact angle of the sun for any given time and place, US Navy provides you with an excellent tool on this site: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php.
What sun protection means and why what you have learned might not be correct if you want to tan correctly?
Even if you were in the sun when it is above 50°, you probably been indoctrinated to use a lotion with SPF, which blocks 98% of the UVB that otherwise would have helped to raise your level of Vitamin-D. If you do not know what SPF and its number means, here is a short explanation that will help you to decide how much SPF you really might need (the higher SPF, the more chemicals in the lotion!).
SPF, which means Sun Protection Factor, always comes with a figure attached (4, 8, 15, 30, 50 …). This figure indicates how much longer time compared to un-protected skin you can spend under the sun without being burned. This means that if you would have got a burn without lotion after 20 minutes it will take 15 times longer for you to burn if you have applied a lotion with SPF15. That is 5 hours! It is therefore easy to understand that SPF above 15 is probably not very necessary for most people. However, since manufacturers of SPF lotions want to sell more of their products, they scare you into using lotions with higher and higher SPF. For a good description of SPF, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunscreen#Sun_protection_factor.
UVA for the “surface-tan”.
But, you might say, I still get a nice color from my vacation. How can it then be as you describe? To explain this, let me introduce to you UVA. UVA are rays with longer wavelength than UVB (>315/320 nanometer), which can easier penetrate the ozone layer and other obstacles (like clouds and pollution) on their way from the sun to the earth. The chemicals in most sunscreen (SPF) lotions are designed to filter out only the healthy UVB while letting through the long term more damaging UVA. When UVA-rays hit your skin, they oxidize the existing pigment (melanin) in your skin, which gives you a surface-tan but does not help your body to produce more melanin or to make any Vitamin-D. So the tan you get will disappear as fast as your skin is shredding its outer layer and it will not do anything neither for your Vitamin-D level nor as preparation for future tanning.
How to plan your tanning
Having read this far, you probably recognize that the way you normally tan during your holiday in a sunny place, does not give you the full health-benefits of the money spent on your stay. So let me describe a way that I have practiced for some years now and what keeps my Vitamin-D3 at a good level all year round.
Since I normally spend most of my time in places where there are little or no possibilities for obtaining Vitamin-D through the natural sun, I try to travel to sunny places as much as I can and in between such travels, I tan in solarium. The use of tanning-lamps fulfills two purposes. First, it prevents Vitamin-D deficit and second, it prepares my skin for the more unpredictable expose to UV light from the sun. If you have heard that indoor tanning does not prepare your skin for outdoor tanning, it is simply wrong. Such information probably comes from the early days of indoor tanning when the UV-lamps were emitting only UVA and, as described above, only UVA light does not increase the skin’s melanin-production. This disinformation is although still often used by opponents of indoor tanning. Modern solariums with low-pressure lamps, all produce a certain amount of UVB in addition to UVA, and it is this addition of UVB that gives the “preparatory” effect from indoor tanning by making your skin produce more melanin than it were born with. This UVB-addition also gives the health-benefits from indoor tanning since it, just as the UVB from the sun, makes the body produce the necessary Vitamin-D.
How to know your Vitamin-D level
Therefore, when I travel to a sunny place, I am well prepared with a basic tan that brings my original Scandinavian skin-type (№2) closer to the Mediterranean (№3) and with a good level of Vitamin D3. In the beginning of my latest journey to Thailand during Christmas and New Year’s holidays 2009-2010, my blood-level of Vitamin-D3 was 49,6 µg/L, measured two days after arrival (see picture below). The norm, which many experts claim is too low, is >30 µg/L. (or ng/mL).
Equipped with a good base-tan and the knowledge of when to tan for optimal UVB / Vitamin-D intake, I tan mainly during the hours when the sun is above 50°. The first days in short periods and later on, when my skin is more tanned, for longer time. It is important to be very careful not to burn and better be on the safe side with the time spent in the sun.
Using right kind of lotions will keep your skin young also when tanning
I also use good lotions made especially FOR tanning and not against. That means NO SPF but very moisturizing (dryness is the worst enemy of the skin and increase the risk of burning manifolds) and with a lot of vitamins and other skin-caring ingredients. The best lotions for my purpose are those made for indoor tanning and that are based on Aloe-Vera, one of Nature’s best natural moisturizers. Such lotions also contains ingredients that stimulate the melanin-production in the skin, thus adding to its natural protection at the same time as they give a deeper and more longer lasting tan.
You should although know that the darker your skin gets, the more time you have to spend in the sun (or in a solarium) in order to produce the same amount of Vitamin-D as with un-tanned skin. That is why statistic shows that people with a natural dark skin-color are more likely to suffer from diseases when they spend most of their time in places with little or no UVB.
A tan is the “Natures SPF”
A dark skin-color obtained by tanning, gives a “natural SPF”. My own experience tells me that a more or less regular tan from “melanin-growing” UVB solarium, together with good moisturizing and skin-caring (non-SPF) lotions, corresponds to at least SPF15. This means in practice that I can be 15 times longer under the sun without burning from first day of my vacation than I would have been able to if following the advice in most glossy magazines (who makes a lot of money from advertisements for SPF-lotions).
Since the skin of the face is more sensitive that the skin of the body, I do use an Aloe-Vera-based SPF15 lotion for my face and protect my eyes with sunglasses that filters out both UVA and UVB rays.
As a proof of that this way of tanning works for improving my “Vitamin-D score”, here is the result after two weeks spend in Thailand.
As you can see, my blood level of Vitamin D3 has increased from 49 to 79 µg/L!
Unfortunately, back home to more northern latitudes, the effect from a sunny vacation quickly wears off. This goes for the color as well as for the Vitamin-D. However, by visiting solarium (with UVB-emitting, low pressure, lamps) once or twice per week, I can prevent becoming Vitamin-D deficient and thus decrease the risk for most illnesses. Then I also have to be prepared to answer the frequent question: “where have you been and got your nice tan?”
I suppose that giving this kind of indirect advice of how to tan, demands some kind of disclaimer. So you should know that although I have studied many scientific and medical reports about Vitamin-D and tanning (both for and against) I am, as you who have read my biography under “about me”, already know, not a doctor by profession. That is why even if I know that what I describe above is in line with most modern reports and that it works for me in practice, does not necessarily mean that it will work for you. If you are in doubt, better be careful and consult with your doctor before you lay down in the sun or in a solarium and follow my advise of how to tan.