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Is tanning safe for health?

Is tanning safe for health?

Tanning is a common practice, especially during summer vacations. Many appreciate the sun-kissed hue that the skin presents after a day spent at the beach or pool. However, depending on the exposure conditions, this enjoyable activity can prove harmful to the skin and body. Discover the dangers of tanning and the solutions for risk-free sunbathing.

Published January 31, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 7 min read

Tanning, a defense mechanism of the skin.

Tanning manifests itself through a change in skin color . The skin becomes darker and takes on a golden hue. This phenomenon occurs after exposure to the sun's rays for a certain duration. It is the result of a body's defense mechanism.

Indeed, UV rays are harmful to health and are responsible for the excessive generation of free radicals. These reactive oxygen species interact with DNA and can cause genetic mutations. They also attack cell membranes and certain proteins.

To protect itself, the skin activates the synthesis of melanin by melanocytes, a brown pigment that migrates to the surface of the epidermis and wraps around the DNA of the cells in the horny layer. However, this process is not always sufficient and tanning poses several health risks, particularly for individuals with very fair skin.

What are the health risks associated with tanning?

Enjoying the sun is not as harmless an activity as it may seem. Indeed, the various biological processes stimulated by UV rays have negative consequences for the skin and health.

  • Hyperpigmentation.

    Under the effect of prolonged sun exposure, the transfer of melanin to the stratum corneum can be disrupted. Indeed, UV rays can alter the signaling pathways involved in the communication between melanocytes and keratinocytes. For instance, UV exposure can increase the activity of protein kinases, enzymes involved in the transmission of cellular signals. The signaling pathways regulating the distribution of melanin are then altered, which can lead to the accumulation of this pigment at the level of the epidermis and the creation of pigment spots on the skin.

  • Premature aging of the skin.

    UV rays also promote skin sagging and the appearance of wrinkles. Indeed, the free radicals they induce damage certain fibrous proteins in the dermis, such as collagen and elastin. These normally play a supportive role for the skin and contribute to its firmness and elasticity.

  • Sunburns.

    Also known as actinic erythema, sunburns represent an inflammatory response of the skin that occurs after excessive sun exposure. This response is triggered by the body to repair skin cells damaged by UV rays. Sunburns can range in severity, characterized by redness, a sensation of heat, pain with itching, and sometimes blisters.

  • Sun Exposure.

    Sunstroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate its internal temperature due to excessive exposure to heat and sun, leading to a significant increase in body temperature. Common symptoms of sunstroke include headaches, dizziness, nausea, red and hot skin, rapid and shallow breathing, muscle weakness, and mental confusion.

  • Cancers.

    One of the most severe health consequences of sun exposure is the development of cancers. These result from the mutagenic activity of UV rays, that is, their ability to induce genetic mutations in skin cells. UV rays can also cause DNA damage. If this damage is not properly repaired, cells can divide uncontrollably, leading to the formation of a tumor.

How to tan in a healthy way?

If tanning carries all these health risks, does it mean we should give up on having a sun-kissed complexion? Not necessarily. By adopting the right habits, it is possible to minimize all these dangers and enjoy a pleasant moment in the sun.

  1. Apply a sun protection.

    Broad-spectrum sun care products allow you to protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV rays without hindering the tanning process. They act on the skin's surface as a filter to block them. Choose the sun protection factor (SPF) based on your skin's sensitivity and complexion. It is particularly recommended for people with very fair skin to always opt for an SPF 50. Those with darker skin can choose between an SPF 30 or an SPF 50. Don't forget to reapply every two hours or in case of swimming and heavy sweating. At Typology, we offer a wide range of sun care products (SPF 30 and SPF 50) for the face and body, combining the action of mineral and organic filters, to ensure optimal protection.

  2. Avoid exposure during the hottest hours of the day.

    It is advised not to expose oneself between 11am and 4pm, as this is the time of day when the UV rays are most intense and dangerous. Instead, prefer morning exposure, between 9am and 11am for example, or in the late afternoon, after 4pm.

  3. Gradually expose yourself and not for too long.

    A few minutes of daily exposure are enough to start seeing a tan appear on the skin. To avoid sunburn, we recommend that you avoid exposing yourself for more than 15 minutes per day if you have very fair skin and 40 minutes per day if you have darker skin. Additionally, to prepare your skin for tanning, expose yourself gradually. This will gently trigger melanogenesis.

  4. Hydrate yourself.

    It is crucial to drink enough water and properly hydrate your skin when exposed to the sun to prevent skin dryness and sunburn. A dehydrated skin is indeed more porous, as the hydrolipidic film on its surface is weakened, allowing UV rays to penetrate more easily. Moreover, drinking plenty of water helps prevent heatstroke.

  5. Optionally, choose a self-tanner.

    Self-tanners are treatments that allow you to achieve a sun-kissed complexion in a few hours, lasting for about a week, similar to that provided by natural sun exposure. The mechanism of action of self-tanners is different from that of UV rays and is completely safe for health. It relies on the use of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) or erythrulose, which reacts with the amino acids in the stratum corneum to form melanoidin, a brown pigment not to be confused with melanin. At Typology, we offer two self-tanning treatments: a self-tanning serum for the face and a self-tanning body gel, both providing the skin with a gradual and natural tan.


  • ANANTHASWAMY H. & al. Toxic effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (2004).


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