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What does a sun tan say about you? In the middle ages, the upper classes stayed pale in their estates and castles, traveling from place to place in covered carriages. Farmers and laborers, on the other hand, spent hours each day working in the fields and walking to various destinations. Thus, being pale was a sign of wealth and status, while a deep tan told others that you were a person of meager bearing. It has only been in the past 50 years or so, that this image has begun to reverse. Today, a good tan gives you a healthy glow and is attractive. But how healthy is it, really?
Health experts have shifted their message from "avoid the sun" to "seek the shade," encouraging individuals to enjoy the sun in moderation. Benefits from controlled sun exposure include protection from sun burns, increased endorphin release and heightened production of vitamin D. However, there is a delicate balance between getting enough sun for health benefits and avoiding overexposure to dangerous radiation that can damage skin, lead to premature aging and contribute to a higher risk for certain types of cancer.
For maximum skin health, the Skin Cancer Foundation (www.skincancer.org) recommends you never go out in the sun without sunscreen. Look for products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Most people should wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and avoid or limit exposure when the sun's radiation is at its peak, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People with fair complexions should wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and seek shade anytime they're outside.
Other things you can do to ensure a healthy dose of sun while minimizing risk:
Skin cancer affects about one in five Americans. The incidence of skin cancer has more than tripled since 1994. Two million Americans will develop as many as 3.5 million cases of the most common type of skin cancer this year. Sun damage also is cumulative, so individuals in their 50s, 60s and beyond are at risk for skin cancer from decades of exposure.
Don't avoid the sun, but follow the guidelines above for moderate exposure. Also, examine your skin from head to toe each month and look for warning signs, such as a new growth or a sore that will not heal. See your doctor every year for a professional skin exam.