Envy of those beautiful, bronzed beach bodies you see in magazines is beckoning you to the seashore.
But is there such thing as a "healthy tan"?
Not really, says Dr. William Ting, an East Bay dermatologist and expert on tanning. But there are alternatives to ultraviolet ray exposure either direct from the sun or through the use of tanning beds.
"My preference is for people to not feel pressured to tan to fit in," Ting says, noting that many celebrities — such as Reese Witherspoon and Evan Rachel Wood — are eschewing bronze skin in favor of a pale look.
"Pale is being portrayed as beautiful," Dr. Ting says. "You never would have seen that 10 years ago."
People tan for many reasons. Some say it makes them look younger and healthier, and even skinnier in their bathing suits. And many people turn to tanning before vacations to avoid getting sunburned on a trip to Hawaii or the Caribbean.
And, likely, they choose to use to tanning beds, a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to get that bronzed look.
But Dr. Ting says tanning beds are dangerous. Not only do they expose the skin to "more and more lethal doses" of harmful UV rays that may cause melanoma (skin cancer), but he says using them can become an addiction as dangerous as smoking.
"I believe it is an addiction," Ting says. "There are studies that have shown that tanning bed exposure actually releases endorphins in the brain. They are the same endorphins that get released when you smoke a cigarette. In my opinion, that is what addiction is."
Also, he says, it is a harmful myth that tanning reduces the likelihood of getting a sunburn or makes a person look more youthful.
"It does the opposite," he says. "In reality, people can look older and a tan does not equal protection to sunburn necessarily."
Ting, who practices in San Ramon and Hercules, suggests that if your heart is set on having your skin be a darker hue, use a sunless tanning method.
Sunless tanning includes lotions and spray-on tan mixtures that color the skin without using the sun or tanning beds.
Derrick Righetti, who said Sunbodyz Tan in Alameda closed in 2012, was an official airbrush spray tanner who used a solution that contained bronzing agents for an instant glow and DHA (Dihydroxyacetone). DHA is a tanning agent derived from sugar cane which develops into a tan six to eight hours after application. The tan, which cost $35 for a full-body application that took about 15 minutes, lasts anywhere from four to seven days, Reghetti said.
Righetti added that airbrush tans are becoming more and more popular as television viewers see dancers on "Dancing with the Stars" use the method to darken up before performances.
"It makes people feel good," he said, warning that anyone using a sunless tan for a big event like a wedding should tan a month before first —and take pictures — to make sure the color is right for them. Once you get the right color match, the one drawback for consumers is the spray tan doesn't last as long as a suntan.
Other methods of sunless tanning include lotions and gels.
Oakland's Clara Pettitt was in her 20s in the 1960s and 1970s and always fielded the questions "Are you tired?" or "Are you sick?" because of her fair skin.
"There's no shortage of people who point out how amazingly pale you are," she says with a laugh, adding that tan people have been considered more active and sporty than pale folks since the 1960s.
After getting a severe sunburn on a river rafting trip, Pettitt sought out sunless tanning lotions and gels, rated them for quality and posted those ratings at www.sunless.com. Her Web site features not only reviews but methods on how to choose the perfect sunless tanning product according to an individual's skin tone and tanning wants. It also addresses some complaints about sunless tans, including orange coloring and streaking.
Pettitt's main concern, she says, is for women who are turning to tanning beds for proms, the first day of school, or weddings without knowing the higher risk of getting skin cancer.
Sunless tanning, Pettitt says, has improved tremendously since the first products were introduced in the late 1960s, then reintroduced in the 1990s. People who want a tan could spend about $8 at any drugstore for a product that will give them the results they want with a little bit of practice and testing, she adds.
"If it doesn't look good the first time you use it, that doesn't mean you won't get good results if you keep practicing and trying different products.," she says. "Anything is better than a tanning bed."
Reach Laura Casey at 925-953-2697 or email@example.com.