Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Tan or Not to Tan…

With the first warm breeze, many people in various parts of the country step outside their homes to worship the sun. Sunning is a normal activity during warmer weather.

It's natural to want return outdoors to greet the arriving season. Like bears awakening from hibernation, people of all ages amble into yards to inspect the greening grass and listen to the birds. Some people have been inside their homes for several months. After raking up the fall leaves, residents could have avoided their yards for some time. They continued going to/from work, retrieving groceries and running errands. There were Christmas decorations to hang and remove. Even the heartier residents walked and exercised throughout the winter.

For many of us, the emergence into the sun is a big event. It's good to feel the sun on our faces and to absorb the warmth. However, some people don't know when to stop sitting in the sun and don't realize that they've had enough.

I have a great appreciation for the sun.

But during the many years I lived in Arizona, I understood that too much sun can really hurt us. There is a difference between appreciating the sun and burning the surface of our epidermis -- seriously and continuously -- resulting in bad things happening to our skin.

For many years I, too, loved lying in the sun. I would tan until I couldn't take the Arizona furnace much longer. Perhaps it was because I lived in the honest-to-goodness desert, but most of us understood when it was time to retreat into the house or at least seek shade.

There were times, of course, when we could be fooled by the cooling effect of water and not realize that we were charring ourselves. I recall one time another outdoor freak and myself took my rather indoors-y brother on a rafting trip down an Arizona river for hours of foolishness and fun. My brother got a serious burn, a fact that he didn't fully realize until a few hours afterward. He suffered greatly afterward for days. But at the time, he was relaxed and laughing. Similar events can occur when floating in a swimming pool and the sun sort of sneaks up on the unsuspecting.

The one thing I developed in Arizona was an appreciation for what prolonged and excessive tanning could do to the skin. There was a process whereby frontiersmen would take an animal's hide, remove the meat, allow the skin to dry and treat it with chemicals so it would last. The end result was leather. The process is, ironically, called tanning.

As a child newly-arrived in Arizona, I recall seeing people who had spent their entire lives in the desert sun and whispering to an adult, "Wow. Look at that man/woman!" Someone wise, like my mother, would say, "Ssshhh. I'll tell you about that later."

The result to this encounter would include a three-tiered lecture. (A) Don't point at people who are different; (B) Stay out of the sun whenever possible; and (C) Always wear sunscreen.

Medical knowledge has increased greatly over the decades, along with sunscreen prevention. Yet people still tan way too much. If you see someone in public during January and they look as though they just got off a plane from The Bahamas, chances are they spend time at the good ol' tanning salon. Although these constantly tanning people think they look vibrant, perhaps even extremely healthy, to the average onlooker they appear a little strange when the ground is still covered with snow.

I actually know a few people who have tanning beds in their homes. They either really like the feel of the warmth on their skin or they have a large area in their home with no furniture and need to fill that space. I can only imagine how often they would have to use their own tanning bed for this to be efficient.

The result of all this damage may well be skin that looks like -- leather. At the very least, skin is upset with being continually fried and gets revenge by making your face resemble a handbag. Seriously fried skin can not only make you look OLD at an early age but can lead to skin cancer. Ask any dermatologist and you are likely to get the sunscreen lecture along with a hefty bill for services rendered.

There are so-called self-tanning lotions, which allow the wearer to "paint" himself a lovely shade of orange in order to replicate a tan. There are also "spray tans" which seem to be big with celebrities on the red carpet who want to look tan without the skin damage, but these can be a little artificial looking too.

As happy as we are to see the sun return, use a little caution when exposing skin for too long. Enjoy the arrival of warm weather but don't turn yourself into a stick of beef jerky.








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