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Base Tan and Winter Tan
Answers from our
Expert Dermatologist

Q. I'm going to the Caribbean for two weeks in February and want to get a base tan so I don't burn before I go.

Is this a good idea? I don't know how to do it without a tanning bed. Are they really harmful? They say they only use the "good rays". What's the real deal?

A. Recent medical studies have shown definite evidence that tanning bed use contributes to melanoma risk. I do not recommend going to a tanning bed.

There truly is no such thing as a safe tan. When you go to a tanning bed you are primarily receiving UVA rays which cause the skin to tan (not burn) so, originally, the premise was if you tan but don't burn you are okay.

But studies have shown that this wavelength actually penetrates deeper into the skin and is considered a "co-carcinogen", meaning that it is a contributing factor to causing aggressive sun cancers like malign melanoma.

Q. Is it still necessary to use sunscreen in the winter? Can the sun's reflection from the snow be harmful?

Also - I wear sunscreen on a daily basis, but I usually apply it just once when I am getting ready in the morning at around 6 am. I use a daily wear zinc oxide sunscreen SPF 20.

Since I work indoors in the morning, I'm not usually outside much until the afternoon. But then I wonder if the sunscreen that I applied in the morning is still doing any good?

A. Yes, it is good to use sunscreen in the winter time as well. For the very reason you sited; light reflection off the snow can be significant. This is the reason why skiers should wear sunscreen too.

I think you're okay with your morning application, unless you are working out, sweating, going swimming or some other activity that would wipe away the sunscreen. Otherwise it should stay on and effective through the day.

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Dr. Monique S. Cohn

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