Sunscreens, sunblocks and, self-tanners here are the tools and rules of modern skin-tanning.
With summer upon us, it's easy to get caught up in the fantasy of achieving an alluring, bronze, "healthy-looking" skin tone. But before you lay out on the beach under a midday sun with a bottle of baby oil for armorment, be aware that acquiring a suntan by exposing yourself to direct sunlight can drastically age your skin. And, let's face it: No amount of makeup can really replace healthy skin once it's been affected by overexposure to sunlight. It is easier to prevent damage than it is to repair it. The best way to avoid skin damage is to start with a thorough understanding of how skin reacts to sunlight, and then to use the tools science has given us to promote good skin protection.
Sunlight contains ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, which are better known as UVA and UVB rays, respectively. These are the rays that penetrate our atmosphere's ozone layer and, after just a few minutes of exposure, begin to damage the skin.
UVB rays peak between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and are present year-round (though they aren't as intense during the winter months). These rays are responsible for sunburns, and the effects of exposure can usually be felt within a few hours. The intensity of a sunburn will depend upon the amount of time of exposure and your skin type. However, some experts say that having as little as one severe sunburn could almost double a person's chance of developing skin cancer later in life.
UVA rays rain down on us year-round and at a constant rate during daylight hours. These are the same rays artificially created by and used in tanning booths. Although UVA rays take longer to damage the skin than UVB rays, they penetrate deeper into the layers of the skin and accelerate the skin's aging process.
Other than staying out of the sun altogether, you can find many products that act to protect skin from the slow, steady damage of ultraviolet rays. But basically, all of them employ one of two chemical compounds to help protect your skin from these damaging rays. One type of product contains microscopic crystals of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and works by reflecting the ultraviolet light off of the skin. This product category is called a sunblock. The second type of product contains the ingredient para amino benzoic acid, better know as PABA, that effectively absorbs the ultraviolet light, which is then emitted as heat. Products with PABA are called sunscreens.
No matter which type of products you choose, make sure that you are aware of how much protection you are receiving. The skin solar-protection industry uses a number known as the SPF rating; the initials stand for Sun Protection Factor and higher numbers signify a greater degree of protection. Anything with an SPF of 15 or higher is termed a sunblock. Products with an SPF of 15 block about 92 percent of the ultraviolet rays, and SPF 30 products block 97 percent. Follow the manufacturer's label for instructions on how and how often to apply a sunblock or sunscreen product. Remember: No matter what the SPF rating that a product carries, applying a greater amount of it at one time does not increase the percentage of ultraviolet rays that it will block.
Does talk of aging skin and skin cancer scare you? If you're still in pursuit of a gorgeous glow, don't entirely give up. There are a couple of other ways to achieve a natural-looking tan. One is to use self-tanners, products which chemically react with the top layer of the skin to create a change in its color. The most effective self-tanners contain dihydroxyacetone, a colorless sugar that reacts with the amino acids in the skin.
Using a self-tanning product is not a task for the faint of heart nor for someone with a couple of minutes to spare. The whole process, including drying time, takes up to three hours to complete and requires careful handling along the way. Be careful when applying a self-tanner to the knees and elbows; these areas tend to be dry and can absorb more of the tanner than other areas, producing an uneven tan. Because self-tanners chemically react with the skin including your hands make sure to wash your hands immediately after applying it, or put on latex gloves beforehand. Either way, be sure to follow all of the product label's directions..
If you only want a kiss of suntan across your cheek, another option is to use a bronzing powder or gel. Bronzers are available in several shades and are applied in the same manner as blush makeup. Select a hue that complements your skin tone, and apply it with a brush or sponge for an even, natural look.
With growing public awareness of the damaging effect of the sun, more and more cosmetics manufacturers are offering products that contain some level of SPF. Make sure to educate yourself on all aspects of sun protection, and read product labels carefully before choosing a product.
Ernie McCraw is director of beauty education for Sally Beauty Company, the world's largest distributor of professional beauty products. A licensed cosmetologist for more than 30 years, he is a frequent contributor of beauty advice to newspapers and national fashion and beauty magazines.
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