What Happens When I Suntan?

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Aaaah… As you kick back, the sun’s rays begin to warm your pale torso. “Your body temperature rises, causing your blood vessels to dilate so heat is lost through your skin,” says dermatologist Dr Rona Mackie. Soon, your veins start bulging and you look flushed. “These are superficial blood vessels under your skin. Your heart rate should stay the same and there’ll be no difference to your circulation,” says Mackie. Unless that young lady in the bikini decides she doesn’t fancy tan lines after all.

After a few minutes, your body moves to stage two of the cooldown process. “The abovenormal body temperature triggers your eccrine glands to go into action, enabling moisture to evaporate from your skin’s surface,” says Mackie. In other words, you sweat. But your body needs fluid and, on a beach, dehydration can occur after about 10 minutes. “It’s easy to get light-headed and dizzy if you lose a lot of fluid, so drink 250ml of water for every half hour you spend sunbathing,” advises Mackie.

Oh dear. A human lobster… “UV rays are damaging your skin’s surface cells,” says Mackie. Cover yourself with SPF30+ cream 15 minutes before going outdoors. But it’s not all bad: the UVs also trigger the release of melanin – the chemical that protects your body from absorbing too much solar scorch, and makes your skin go brown. You won’t see it until the inflammation goes down though.

Even if your skin’s a bit rosy, you’ll be feeling good by now. And not just because you’re not in the office. “There are light receptors at the back of your eye, which trigger an endorphin rush in your blood, giving you a feeling of wellbeing,” says Mackie. A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found two weekly 15-minute doses of UV rays was enough to make men feel happier and more relaxed. A cocktail wouldn’t hurt either.

5. D-DAY
There’s more good news: “Your skin absorbs sunlight and converts it into vitamin D,” says Dr William Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Centre in the US (www.sunarc.org). The benefits of “D” are huge: it fights prostate and colon cancer, as well as acne and heart disease. “If you have fair skin, 30 minutes in the hot sun will give you half your RDA of vitamin D.

After 30 minutes in the sun, get out of it. “When they hit your skin, UV rays actually damage your DNA,” says skin cancer specialist Dr John O’Driscoll. Cell damage accumulates, releasing nasty, cancercausing free-radicals, lighting the fuse on the melanoma time bomb. Minimise sunbathing from 11am to 3pm and look for any moles that have changed colour or size. If you spot one, head to a dermatologist to get checked out by a pro.

Eating oily fish, fresh fruit and vegetables reduces your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you won’t burn as quickly.

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