Harvard Health Letter

In search of the safe suntan

Getting a tan is bad for you, but having one might be protective — if no UV light were involved.

For years, the official word on tanning has been...don't. Health organizations have driven home the message that even if we think a suntan looks healthy, it's not, and that the sun exposure needed to get the tan increases your chances of getting skin cancer.

Researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston have conducted a series of experiments that put tanning in a different light. A suntan, they say, is the body's best effort to fend off the known cancerous effects of ultraviolet (UV) light, the invisible portion of the light spectrum that comes in short, energy-packed wavelengths that penetrate the skin and mutate DNA.

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