Dr. Mark Jones DERMATOLOGY CORNER
I'm going to Hawaii on my vacation soon. Should I get a "base tan" by going to the tanning salon before I go so I won't get a sunburn? - A Pale Princess
Dear Princess: The light one gets from natural sun is really a form of radiation. It is made up of a wide spectrum of energy, including the familiar visible light, ultraviolet B rays (UVB) and ultraviolet A rays (UVA).
While both UVB and UVA cause skin to turn darker, or tan, it is the UVB that induces the longer-lasting "tan" that people in our society seek.
The radiation one gets from tanning salons is predominately in the form of UVA, although there still is some UVB. However, there are no regulations covering what form or how much of this radiation one may get when visiting a tanning salon.
It is commonly accepted that sunshine can lead to premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, discolorations and ultimately, skin cancer. The UVA is thought to be responsible for most of the aging effects on the skin, while the UVB is responsible for increased risk of skin cancer. Some speculate that common tanning salon use may be contributing to the increasing numbers of malignant melanomas seen in young people.
To answer your question, don't get a "base tan" before going to Hawaii. Any form of this type of radiation increases the risk of skin cancer. Wear a waterproof sunscreen of at least SPF 30, light long-sleeve shirts, a broad-brimmed hat and long pants whenever possible.
Remember, the idea is sun "protection."
If you don't want to be a white shining beacon when covering up isn't practical, a sunless tanning preparation is a good idea. Many over-the-counter lotions have very good results. For a few more dollars, a "spray-on" tan gives a more natural look.
Just remember the "tan in a can" does not give any sun protection. Still wear sunscreen. Have a great time in Hawaii!
Dr. Mark Jones joined the Deaconess Billings Clinic dermatology team in 2003 and is a Mohs surgeon.