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How To Get A Safer Tan

If you’re intent on basking in the sun, follow our expert guide to minimise the risks

Skin is the most exacting of record keepers. Every late night, glass of rioja and stressful deadline is logged in its fine lines. For proof you only need to look at Mr Keith Richards, a man whose face is the ultimate ledger of –  how can we put this? –  a life well lived. But of all the things that can leave their mark on a man’s skin, the sun is the most troublesome.

Now, it’s customary to extol the virtues of fake tan over a real one, but let’s face it, few things ruin a man’s credibility quite like a pair of streaky orange calves or the tell-tale biscuity smell of self-tanning lotion. And while pale may well be interesting, it doesn’t show off a crisp white cotton Oxford quite like a tan does.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a “safe” or “healthy” suntan – even the most modest exposure damages cellular DNA and causes premature ageing, but then, there’s no such thing as 100 per cent healthy drinking or risk-free walking down the street, either. And it’s difficult to imagine a world where you avoided doing either of those. So while acquiring a little colour the old-fashioned way will never be entirely danger-free, there are a few steps you can take to at least avoid the indignity of looking like Hellboy. All you need is a plan.

Factor up

Sunscreens are key to safer tanning – you’ll still tan; it’ll just take a little longer – but their effectiveness is largely down to the type you choose and how you use them. Dermatologists now recommend using products with a minimum SPF of 15, regardless of your skin type. Where possible opt for “broad spectrum” products such as Erno Laszlo’s Phelityl Day Lotion SPF15 and Lab Series Daily Moisture Defense Lotion SPF15, which offer protection against both the skin’s UVB rays (the ones that burn you) and its UVA rays (which are just as dangerous, penetrate deeper into the skin and cause premature ageing). This extra protection is especially important if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel because, unlike UVB rays, UVA can penetrate glass.

The main error with suncare products is not applying enough of them. Dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams, founder and medical director of the Eudelo clinic in London, estimates most people apply less than half the recommended amount and so hardly ever reach the stated SPF. She suggests applying just more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face/neck/ears and just over one teaspoon to each leg and to the chest, stomach and back, both liberally and frequently. “You should always reapply after swimming too because 85 per cent of a sun product is removed when towel drying,” she says.

Even with minimal exposure, however, it’s still worth factoring up and avoiding the sun when it’s at its strongest – between the hours of of 11.00am and 3.00pm – and keeping an eye on your shadow: when it’s short, you should seek shade.

Support skin from within

“Research has shown that antioxidant vitamins are crucial to defending skin from the ageing and burning effects of damaging UV light and the harmful free radicals that sun exposure creates,” says Ms Sally Penford, education manager of The International Dermal Institute.

For this reason, it’s worth rooting out products that incorporate antioxidants in their formulas, such as Malin + Goetz’s SPF30 Face Moisturizer, which uses green tea, and Hampton Sun SPF30 Lotion, which packs a healthy dose of vitamin E. But you can protect cells from the inside, too, by loading up on antioxidant-rich fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, plums and cherries. You might want to consider taking a lycopene supplement as well: a study by the UK’s Newcastle and Manchester Universities concluded that this phytochemical, found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, increased skin’s natural protection against sunburn by 30 per cent. 

Make it last

A tan is likely to be something you’ll want to hold on to for as long as possible. But given that skin renews itself around every 30 days or so, that’s easier said than done. To ensure yours lasts, avoid using face or body scrubs (they only speed up cell turnover – the last thing you want) and ensure skin is adequately hydrated by slathering on a body moisturiser such as Aesop’s Geranium Leaf Body Balm. By preventing dryness and flakiness, it’ll instantly improve the look of your tan, too. If the tan on your face is fading, apply a little Tom Ford Beauty For Men Bronzing Gel. Unlike fake tans, it washes off easily and is fragrance- and streak-free, so is perfect for temporarily boosting your colour.

Oh, and resist the urge to peel the skin off a sunburnt arm. “Peeling after sunburn is your body’s way of getting rid of damaged cells that are at risk of becoming cancerous – and peeling skin away will simply expose the vulnerable new cells beneath too soon,” says Ms Penford.

Check your moles

Your testicles aren’t the only part of your body you have to check up on: skin needs a regular once over, too. Changes in any moles you may have can be the first sign of skin cancer, so be especially vigilant if you’re a sun lover. According to Dr Williams, things to look out for include moles that are growing, bleeding or itching or are uneven in colour. Any new growth or sore on the skin that doesn’t heal naturally within a month or so is also worth a visit to a dermatologist or your GP. If in doubt, get it checked out.

Be realistic

Like height or baldness, a man’s tan is largely determined by genetics. A shortage of melanin in people with fair skin and Celtic complexions means skin burns easily whereas a man with olive skin will probably rarely burn in the sun and develop a deep tan. If you’re the former, a tan may not be worth the trouble, especially since a study published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests men with blond or red hair have triple the chance of developing malignant melanoma while those with blue eyes are 57 per cent more likely to suffer from the most deadly from of skin cancer. Maybe the streaks and biscuity smell aren’t so bad after all.

Easy does it

According to Cancer Research UK, the most common place to find skin cancer in men is on the back. Why the back and not the head, hands or arms, which are more exposed? Well, for starters our backs are usually covered up so are denied a chance to build up any natural sun protection in the form of melanin. This is the pigment that causes tanning and is nature’s way of protecting skin against further cell damage. Though no replacement for sunscreen, a tan is thought to offer an equivalent SPF (sun protection factor) of around two or three.

Since melanin builds up slowly, however, a pasty torso will need time to build up natural protection, so graduate sun exposure slowly and surely – starting with just 10 minutes – rather than subjecting it to a sudden, potentially charring assault. You’re a man after a tan, remember, not a rotisserie chicken.

And don’t even think about using a sunbed to kick-start your pre-vacation tan: using one for the first time before the age of 35 is thought to increase the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by a very scary 60 per cent.

Slather this on…

  • Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad - Intense Glow, 20 x 2.2ml

  • Hampton Sun SPF15 Gel, 118ml

  • NYDG Skincare SPF30 Chem-Free Active Defense, 120ml

  • Sisley - Paris Sunleÿa Age-Minimizing After-Sun Care, 50ml

  • Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Glow Pad - Gradual Glow, 20 x 2.2ml

  • Lab Series SPF15 Daily Moisture Defense Lotion, 100ml