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Does a Base Tan Help before Vacation? Use a Sunscreen Instead.

I think we can all agree that basking in baby oil under the glow of a foil screen is a bad idea. And most likely, sunglasses and SPF are at the top of your packing list. It is a common misconception that a base tan will prevent a person from burning their skin on vacation, like an easement into sun exposure instead of shocking the skin with UV rays.

A common base tan myth is the vacationer is going to Florida and they don’t want to get burned while they’re there, so they commit to the tanning salon to achieve, what they believe is a safe ‘base color.” If that wasn’t bad enough, what happens next is worse: Once they person is on vacation that person thinks they aren’t at risk for burns and they spend their time in the sun unprotected. This is a common and dangerous misconception of invincibility. When in fact the exact opposite is happens.

Tan skin is actually the result of the skin’s defenses kicking in. When ultraviolet light hits the skin, it damages the DNA in the skin cells, causing them to send out an emergency signal—melanin, or pigment—to the surface to protect the cells. In other words, when you have a tan, the tan is happening because the DNA has already been damaged. Half of all American adults report experiencing at least one sunburn in the past year.

Past damage, such as the base tan, will not protect you from future sunburn. It simply increases an individual’s susceptibility to further effects of sun damage, such as wrinkles and skin cancer and a lot of the times the obvious signs won’t show up right away. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over two-million people diagnosed each year. This means, one out of every five Americans will develop skin cancer is the course of their lifetime.

Bottom line: There’s no such thing as a safe tan, damaged skin is damaged skin. The most important step into any sun exposure is consistent reapplication of at least SPF 30 broad spectrum sunscreen protection. Skip the base tan plan and instead focus on year-round protection.

About author - Dr. Cameron Rokhsar

Dr. Cameron Rokhsar

Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, MD, FAAD, FAACS, is the founder and medical director of the New York Cosmetic, Skin, & Laser Surgery Center. Dr. Rokhsar is a graduate of Harvard College and NYU School of Medicine. Dr. Rokhsar is double board certified in dermatology and micrographic dermatologic surgery, being one of the few select dermatologists in the country who is also fellowship trained in laser surgery. A researcher and innovator, Dr. Rokhsar is the creator of the non-surgical nose job and has been instrumental in the research and development of laser systems such as the Fraxel, CO2, Mirady, Vbeam, Themitight, and Ulthera devices. An Associate Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, Dr. Rokhsar actively teaches the cosmetic dermatology clinic to the resident at Mount Sinai. An expert injector of fillers, and a trainer for many companies, patients fly in from around the world to see Dr. Rokhsar in his Garden City and Manhattan offices in New York.

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