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Skin

Why Cancer Research wants you to give up tanning (even the fake stuff)

July 12th 2018 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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The Own Your Tone campaign is seeking to denormalise tanning in particular and change attitudes around what’s healthy and “beautiful” for all skin tones. Will trying to change the colour of our skin finally go out of fashion?

From the bronzed (or burnt in Alex’s case) bodies frolicking across our screens every night on Love Island to the Instagram influencers uploading bikini shots of a Monday morning, a sun dappled skintone is as aspirational as ever. Many of us feel the pressure to tan pre-holiday, either by way of the fake stuff, or far more worryingly given our modern level of sun awareness education, sunbeds, which are used by around 10 per cent of the population of Northern Europe on a regular basis according to the World Health Organisation.

To top it off, many of us mistakenly assume that the sun in the UK isn’t strong enough to damage skin, despite the fact that UV levels can be high at any time between April and September, and that you can still burn on cloudy days. Add to this the fact that a good number of us get ready to bake the minute that the sun makes an appearance during the British summer, without paying too much heed to the consequences, and we’re putting ourselves in harm’s way in terms of skin cancer risk.

Cancer Research UK reckons that we know that a lot of this UV seeking behaviour is bad for our health already, but that the ‘scary but true’ messaging around sun exposure isn’t hitting home due to the cultural and societal infatuation with changing our skin tones. As such, this summer’s Own Your Tone campaign aims to encourage young people in particular to “embrace their natural skin tone rather than cultivate a tan.” Changing the beauty norms amongst the young is the goal, as the charity’s findings indicate that the 16-24 demographic is the age range that’s most susceptible to appearance based campaigning, and given that the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is the third most common cancer in the age group above this (25-49), influencing attitudes that favour sun safety from a younger age could help to prevent around 13,600 cases of melanoma every year in the UK.

In rallying the public to ‘own their tone’ Cancer Research UK hopes that young people won’t ‘tan’ as an activity, thereby reducing their risk of melanoma, in addition to practicing safe sun habits regardless of skin colour, such as applying sunscreen under makeup (even if your makeup contains SPF), covering up with cool kaftans, wide brimmed hats, flowy sundresses and shades and applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (many derms would advise you to stick to SPF 30) every four hours, and more frequently if you’ve been swimming. Given that 16-24 years spend on average £520 a year on beauty products according to the charity, the big idea is to protect and nurture the skin you’re in, as you’ll not only be throwing the benefits of that expensive moisturiser in the bin/ pool when you neglect to protect your skin from the sun, you could also be rocketing your risk of melanoma, as burning your skin just once every two years can triple your likelihood of getting skin cancer.

Of course, letting go of the desire to appear bronzed won’t be an easy feat for those of us that see a summer tan as a kind of security blanket, and I for one find a spray tan confidence-enhancing when bacne strikes and I want to even out my skin for a special occasion. Cancer Research UK highlights that of course using fake tan is far, far preferable to going anywhere near a sun bed, but given that the tanning agent DHA, while safe to use on skin, can prove irritating for many of us (I’ve experienced my fair share of fake tan induced reactions), freeing ourselves of the faff, stench, potential streaks and “need” to achieve a tanned look could be liberating and altogether safer.

The constant pressure to make light skin darker, and the more culturally sinister practice of making dark skin lighter, proves that the Own Your Tone movement has some way to go before it becomes fashionable, but the sooner that we start prioritising protecting our skin, whatever its colour, the better off we’ll be, from a physical and mental health perspective. I may well still slap on the fake tan this summer, but I’ll try to foster an appreciation of my legs on pasty, veiny days too, and not relegate my summer shorts to the back of the wardrobe because I’m not looking Victoria’s Secret level sunkissed. Life’s literally too short.

Find out more about sun safety, skin cancer and the Own Your Tone Campaign on the Cancer Research UK website

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