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New Kind of ‘Tan in a Bottle’ Supposedly Protects Against Skin Cancer

Few things feel better than basking in the warm glow of the sun. Proper and safe sun exposure also provides a number of vital health benefits. So why are scientists trying to engineer sunlight in a bottle? Science News describes a topical tanner as a health boosting breakthrough, but is there any truth to the hype? The creators claim that it activates the production of the dark form of melanin. Their theory is that this would protect the skin from UV damage and reduce instances of skin cancer.

The primary benefit of tanning is not cosmetic. Safe sun exposure can help optimize your vitamin D levels. Traditional tanners provide none of these benefits and also fail aesthetically. Self-tanners simply cannot compare to the natural glow of an actual tan and are little more than toxic brown ink. The topical tanner described in Science News is even more intrusive and represents yet another effort to encourage people to avoid sun exposure.

When you're exposed to sunlight, all of the sun's energy is hitting your skin. Over the past 40 years, ill-informed dermatologists have promulgated the idea that you should never be exposed to direct sunlight because it will damage your skin and cause skin cancer. What they fail to appreciate is that when you're exposed to sunlight, many important biological processes occur in your skin. This is distinct from swallowing oral vitamin D or using a radical new topical tanner.

Even in the improbable event that this topical tanner provides many of the same benefits as the sun it still would not address the sleep cycle. This is a huge issue because if you don’t sleep well, you’re not going to be optimally healthy no matter how good your diet and exercise are. Light is important because it serves as the major synchronizer of something called your master clock. Your sleep cycle depends on exposure to bright sunlight at midday and total darkness at night.

The sun is often portrayed as little more than a skin cancer-inducing radiant orb in the sky. It's important to consider that exposure to UVB light is actually protective against melanoma (the most lethal form of skin cancer). The key is to only get sensible sun exposure and always avoid sunburn.

The easiest way to avoid sunburn is to build up your tolerance. Once your tolerance has been built up, aim for 15 to 30 minutes of unprotected exposure two to four times per week, around midday, to maximize vitamin D production. Make sure you expose as much skin as possible, not just your arms and face. There are also antioxidant rich foods and healthy fats that can boost your “internal sunscreen.” As a general rule, the best time to get sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D levels is close to solar noon, which is 1 p.m. in those states that foolishly use Daylight Saving Time.
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