Skin Types & How the skin tans

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The Skin

The skin is the largest multi-functional organ of our body.

It is equipped with special tiny sensors that can register warmth, cold, pleasure, pain, regulate body temperature, convert energy and erect barriers against excessive radiation.

The skin has three main layers – from the outer skin…Epidermis > Dermis > Subcutaneous Tissue.

Our skin is constantly renewing itself.  The cells are forced outwards and harden on the surface where eventually they are shed – so we find ourselves developing a new outer skin every 4 weeks.

How to determine your skin type:

It is our duty to ensure that you tan responsibly and never over expose yourself to UV. To do this it is important that you know what your own specific skin ‘type’ is as this will determine whether or not your skin is suitable for tanning and for how long it can be exposed to UV before it starts burning. See the information below to help determine what your skin type is;

  • 1. Very fair skin, typically lots of freckles, red / sandy hair, blue / grey eyes…..High burn risk; skin turns red and peel; advised not to use a sunbed

  • 2. Fair to light brown skin, possibly with freckles, blond / brown hair, blue / green / grey eyes….Medium risk of burning; great care should be taken when tanning; capable of building up a moderate tan…tanning sessions can be from 6-9 minutes.

  • 3. Light brown skin, dark brown hair and eyes……Burning is rare; tanning is rapid and deep….tanning sessions can be from 9-12 minutes

  • 4. Deep brown skin, dark hair and eyes……..Burning is seldom; tanning is rapid and deep; this type of skin has its own natural protection tanning session can be from 12-15 minutes

How does the skin tan:

Our natural skin colour is determined by skin pigment – melanin – and the presence and amount of melanin in an individual is determined by hereditary factors.

The cells which initiate the production of melanin – called melanocytes – are found deep in the epidermis and look rather like octopuses under a microscope.  When our skin is exposed to UV rays, the melanocytes are triggered into action and they start to generate new pigment grains – melanosomes – which are able to grow between the surrounding cells called keratinocytes.  The melanosomes store melanin which is released, as the melansomes grow. Initially the melanin is pale coloured, but the influence of UV rays starts to turn the melanin brown as it rises to the skins surface.  The brown melanin forms a barrier on the skin which is our bodys natural mechanism in operation to protect us against exposure to UV radiation.

There is also another natural protection mechanism which functions when our skin is exposed to UV and that is the thickening of the upper layer of the epidermis. It is important to note that both the production and browning of melanin and the thickening of the epidermis are equally important in protecting us against exposure to UV

Both UVA and UVB can cause sunburn if people over-expose themselves, but because UVB has more energy, UVB will cause sunburn more quickly.  It is important to note that it is UVB which is more effective in triggering the melanocytes into action to produce new pigment grains (the melanin pigments react to a higher degree to UVB) and more effective in thickening the epidermis to develop sun protection – and UVA is more effective in browning the melanin.

To attempt to tan with UVB only or mostly UVB will result in sunburn.  To attempt to tan with UVA or mostly UVA will result in a superficial tan that will disappear quickly and offer little sun protection.  Most sunbed users expect a long-lasting and deep tan.  Sunbed lamps therefore contain a controlled level of UVB to activate the melanocytes and generate enough pigment gains to produce melanin and more, but a controlled level, of UVA to brown the melanin and produce a tan.

Some people, but not very fair skinned people, have a certain amount of pigment grains readily available which, when exposed to UVA, will produce the immediate effect of a light tan (IPD – Immediate Pigment Darkening) but this will disappear quickly.  Only after a few sessions will the tan become darker and deeper due to the production of more melanin.

Following the initial exposure to UV, it can take 3 to 5 days before the new pigment grains become present for melanin release and subsequent browning, so tanning is a gradual process.

If the tolerance level of a persons natural protection mechanism is exceeded, that is to say their natural production of melanin and thickening of the outer skin cannot work quickly enough to protect against a high level or prolonged period of exposure to UV rays, this will lead to inflammation and a rush of blood to the surface of the skin which is called an erythema – simply put – it is sunburn.  In extreme cases, this can be quite serious and often painful and may result in severe reddening, blistering and subsequent peeling of the skin.

Such UV-induced inflammation normally disappears as our skin has a natural repair mechanism – photo-repair – where the damaged areas are identified and replaced by new intact cells.  However, if the skins natural repair mechanism is triggered off too frequently, especially by prolonged over-exposure and sunburn, the mechanism may become exhausted and can result in permanent damage to the skin over the years.  Undue thickening of the epidermis can result from intense, over-exposure to UV over many years.

People will react differently to UV rays and this will depend on the amount of pigment naturally present and their ability to produce melanin.  Darker skinned people produce melanin more readily so their protection and ability to tan is greater than fair skinned people.  The skin of some very fair people contains very little melanin and even when exposed to UV rays, they are not able to form melanin, so they will not tan either in sunlight or on a sunbed.

We all have approximately 5 million melanocytes in our body, but genetics dictate how much melanin our body’s melanocytes will naturally produce. A general guideline is that the darker your skin type is naturally, the more pigment your melanocytes produce.

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