If you consider yourself one of countless women who not only feel they look better with a tan, but actually (mentally, physically, and maybe even spiritually) feel better while lounging in the sun, have no shame. I’m really not here to wag my finger at you. I never considered myself a sun worshipper until the year I spent seven months in London. By month six I was buying tropical prints in Portobello Market and counting the days until I could be back on U.S. sand. Sunshine is therapeutic. Bronze skin is glam. But there’s a ugly side to summer–an addiction to tanning that, unfortunately, is seldom taken as seriously as dependence on alcohol, drugs or food.
“You know you’re addicted to tanning when the need to either sun bathe or use a tanning booth becomes compulsive or obsessive and there’s no regard for safety,” says Dr. David E. Bank, director at The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery.
Tanning is like any other addiction–if you find yourself putting it ahead of other important responsibilities in life, or feel worthless or depressed when your skin lacks color, it’s time to take a good hard look at your situation and decide if you need to put the brakes on it before your health is compromised. The risks of tanning are numerous and include an increased risk of developing skin cancer, premature aging, painful sunburn and sunspots, eye damage (called photokeratitis), cataracts, and even immune suppression, which weakens your skin’s natural defenses.
So, what’s your first step after you realize you might be addicted to tanning? Call a doctor–and the sooner, the better.
“Visit your dermatologist regularly for a full skin exam so they can look at your moles and birthmarks for any changes or irregularities,” Bank says. “They will also advise you on the dangers of tanning and how to be out in the sun safely.”
Since no one is expected to stay indoors forever, Bank says the key is finding a way to be as safe as possible in the sun.
“Practice moderation, limit your exposure to non-peak hours (before 10 am and after 3 pm), and always apply a broad spectrum sunscreen on a daily basis, even on overcast or hazy days,” Bank says. “Relying on sunscreen in make-up products is not ideal because the SPF in cosmetics is not high enough for adequate protection. Using a daily moisturizer with an SPF is a better option.” Bank recommends applying a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 to all areas of the face and body. “Pay attention to the ears and back of the neck–areas that are commonly overlooked,” he says.
Additionally, Bank advises choosing clothing with UVA/UVB protection and wearing a hat for extra coverage. “If you’re in and out of the water, be sure to reapply sunscreen often, even water or sweat-proof formulas can wear off over time,” he says. “Lips are also often neglected for sun protection so I also suggest that you use a lipstick or Chapstick that contains sunscreen for extra protection.”
Times have changed since folks believed a few hours of direct sunlight each day (while unprotected) was a healthy thing. The sun is far more intense than it was 20 years ago because of the thinning ozone layer, Bank says. As a result, it’s more important than ever to take the necessary steps to get help and curb your behavior if you feel you might be addicted to tanning.
“Everyday we are exposed to the sun without even realizing it–just by maintaining our basic everyday activities,” Bank says. “If you really refuse to stay out of the sun, it’s important to try and and protect yourself as best you can.”
For more beauty tips, check out 7 habits women with gorgeous skin swear by and 4 eyeshadow tricks that will make blue eyes even more beautiful.