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Why Skin Gets Dark in the Summer


At the beginning of the summer your complexion might be light, even pale, but by the time September rolls around, you're a deep nut-brown. How does this happen? The sunlight on your skin triggers the production of melanin, the pigment that gives you that summer tan. But get too much sunlight and you'll run the risk of sunburn, permanent skin damage and even cancer.


When the sun's ultraviolet rays reach your body, they begin to break down the DNA in your skin. In response, special cells called melanocytes release a pigment called melanin. The melanin turns your skin darker in an attempt to shield your skin from the sun's rays and protect it from further harm. If you stay in the sun too long, the radiation will burn your skin faster than your body can repair it and you'll end up with a sunburn.

Skin Cancer and Skin Damage

At the first sign of sun damage, DNA-repairing enzymes race to your skin's rescue. But they don't always do a perfect job. If a strand of DNA goes uncorrected, it might turn into a genetic mutation that could eventually lead to a melanoma, or skin cancer. The more the sun damages your skin, the greater the risk. Other effects of sun exposure on unprotected skin include premature wrinkling and permanent spotting.

Sunscreens and SPFs

Protect your skin against potential damage during the summer and any other time of year by using sunscreen. Sunscreens are available as lotions, creams and sprays, and come in varying levels of sun protection factor (SPF). The number of the SPF indicates how long you can stay in the sun without risking damage. An SPF of 30, for example, will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer than if your skin was unprotected. The higher the number, the stronger the protection and the longer you can relax on the beach.

When to Use Sunscreen

According to the American Melanoma Society, most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher year-round. This includes overcast days as well as sunny ones: Clouds only prevent a small percentage of the sun's radiation from reaching the Earth. Sand, water and snow reflect sunlight, so remember to wear plenty of sunscreen even in winter.

Sunless Tanning

If you'd like to get that sun-kissed summer look without all of the damage to your skin, give sunless tanning a try. Sunless tanning products are available in a number of options, including lotions, creams, sprays and towelette wipes. Most sunless tanners work with the help of a chemical called DHA, which darkens the dead cells that line the surface of your skin. A sunless tan isn't permanent and will wear off in a few days as your skin cells slough away, unless you reapply.

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