Sun, Sunscreen, Tanning Beds and Your Health

by Cynthia Horner

Health is greatly dependent on the amount and quality of light that shines on our skin and eyes.There has been much controversy about whether sun is helpful or harmful. Understanding a little about the light of the sun and how it compares to the light of tanning beds and the effect the chemicals in sunscreen have on your skin will help you make wise decisions about your days in the sun.

Sunlight by definition is the total spectrum of electromagnetic radiation given off by the sun. Ultraviolet light (UV) is electromagnetic radiation. Its  wavelength is shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays. It got the name ultraviolet because the waves are a bit higher than those that humans identify as the color violet. This type of light is invisible to humans but can create a chemical reaction that makes it visible by causing substances to glow or fluoresce.

Light is made up of:

(37%)       Visible light

(3%)           Ultraviolet light (UVA & UVB)

(60%)        Infrared light

The two wave lengths that affect the human skin are UVA & UVB, only a small part of sunlight.

UVB Rays

The UVB rays burn skin more quickly but do not penetrate deeply. They are associated with most types of skin cancer. It is the UVB rays that our bodies use to convert cholesterol into vitamin D.

UVA Rays

The UVA rays are not likely to cause sunburn but do effect the deeper layers of skin. They were once thought to be harmless to the skin because they do not cause sunburn but they have been linked to malignant melanoma. Long exposure to UVA rays can cause permanent damage to the underlying structure of skin resulting in cancer or premature aging. UVA rays are not to be feared, common sense can be your guide on what is considered long exposure.

Sunlight and your eyes

It has been found that full spectrum light when received by your eyes plays an important role in your body chemistry. Full spectrum light on your eyes influences the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and pineal gland in your brain. Your sleep patterns are influenced by natural full spectrum light. Lack of sunlight on your eyes can be the cause of sleep disorders. Mood is improved by the exposure of UVA rays on the brain through the eyes.


Tanning Beds

There are different kinds of tanning beds. Some are referred to as SAFE TANNING BEDS. One feature of safe tanning beds is the use electronic ballast others use magnetic ballasts. Electronic ballasts are in newer beds and emit less electromagnetic rays therefore they are preferred. Safe tanning beds will have less UVA than natural sunlight. Natural sunlight emits 95% UVA and 5% UVB. The important key is to tan slowly with little exposure 5 to 10 minutes three times a week at first then 10 to 20 minutes three times a week. As your skin tans in creates a natural sunscreen called melanin. A good tanning salon owner will not let their clients overuse their tanning beds. Good records are kept and tanning bed use is controlled. What you eat and put on your skin has a lot to do with how the rays, whether from a tanning bed or the sun, affect your skin. Foods high in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables will help prevent your skin from the harmful radiation of UVA and UVB rays.


Does Sunscreen Harm?

Some researchers say although sunscreen helps prevent sunburn it might not reduce your risk of cancer, in fact it may increase your cancer risk. Sunscreen prevents your skin from making vitamin D because it is specifically designed to block UVB rays (the rays needed to make vitamin D). It has been estimated that vitamin D deficiency causes 100,00  people to develop cancer each year.  It has also been found that 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day decreases the risk of colorectal cancer by one half.

Chemicals in sunscreen such as oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate are harmful to your body either as a hormone disrupter or are because they are photo carcinogenic. This means it becomes more active when illuminated. Oxybenzone is derived from benzophenone which can attack DNA when illuminated and increases the production of free radicals that damage the skin. Healthy active ingredients to look for in you sunscreen are zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide, these block UVA and UVB rays. Other non-active healthy ingredients are aloe, soybean oil (glycine or sojo), shea butter, vitamin E (tocopherol), alpha lipoic acid and essential ,oils. These inactive ingredients help decrease free radical production.


What is SPF?

The letters SPF literally stand for SKIN PROTECTION FACTOR. The label SPF 2 for example means your skin is protected against UV rays twice as long as it would be without the sunscreen. The higher the SPF number the more your skin is blocked from producing vitamin D.


What my patients have taught me “Don’t be afraid to get outside and experience the warmth of a season.”


3 Responses to Sun, Sunscreen, Tanning Beds and Your Health

  • drcynthia says:


    Sorry it took so long for me to answer your question, I missed seeing this. I do not know any place in Greenville or the surrounding area that uses electronic ballast. If you find one please share it with me.
    Thanks for your inquiry.

    Dr. H

  • colleen says:

    Do you know of a place in the Greenville area that has a “safe” tanning bed with electronic ballasts?

  • cara says:

    Is Homosalate in sunscreen bad for you?