‘A tan is a disease’: Why some people get sick from tanning
When Sophie Tan and her family decided to take their children to the beach in southern Israel, it was a decision to make.
“We thought the beach was too hot,” she says.
“It was a really big, very noisy place.”
Her husband, Dan, says: “It’s not like a summer camp.
There are kids running around.”
Tan is one of many people with skin disorders in Israel who have found themselves at the centre of a national debate on whether they are getting sick from the sun or not.
In some cases, people have gone to the media to explain that they do not tan because they are not allergic to it, or because they have been told it’s a risk to their health.
Others have been ridiculed, ridiculed and even arrested for allegedly spreading the myth that they are actually sick from it.
But, even as tanning has become a major public health issue, it has also become an emotive one.
Tan’s family are not alone in believing that it is possible to get sick after tanning.
A recent survey by the Israel Skin Foundation (ISF) found that a third of Israelis who responded to a survey believed tanning is a common, everyday occurrence in Israel.
And the vast majority of respondents said they were afraid of getting sick.
“I was really nervous, but I had to take the risk,” says Tan, who works in the cosmetics industry.
“This is what I do for a living, I work for money.”
The truth is, there is a wide range of people who have skin conditions that do not cause symptoms of sunburn, but have nevertheless been affected by them.
Some are allergic to the sun, or have underlying conditions that make it difficult for them to tolerate it.
Some can have skin disorders that don’t cause any symptoms at all.
And some are simply unlucky and never really exposed to the elements.
But the majority of people, especially those who are tanning, do not develop skin disorders because they don’t get sunburns, says Dr. Roni Raffel, the founder and director of the Israeli Skin Foundation.
“What is more, in general, people do not have sunburn symptoms,” she adds.
“There are those who have a skin disorder but have no symptoms.
And there are those that have symptoms and develop sunburn when they get sun exposed, and have the skin condition but have a normal skin reaction to the sunlight.”
The reasons why people with severe skin disorders may be exposed to sun exposure are varied.
But most of the skin disorders we are aware of are related to sunburn.
“For most of us, it’s the sunburn that causes skin cancer,” says Raffels mother, Masha, who has suffered from psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.
“In many cases, the underlying condition that causes the problem is the sun.
And for many people, it happens that the underlying cause is the lack of sunlight.”
There are also variations in how the skin responds to the various types of sun exposure.
Skin reactions vary according to whether the skin is exposed to direct sunlight or indirectly from the air.
“People with eczemas, for example, do get sunburnt by the air,” explains Raffela, who also runs a dermatology clinic in the city of Tel Aviv.
“But for people with psorias, the reaction is usually not the air.”
And for those with atopic diseases, the skin usually responds to direct sun exposure but does not respond as well to indirect sun exposure, says Rattel.
“If it is the air, then the skin will react very poorly, and the response will be more or less constant,” says Dr Raffele.
For those with eczo, there may be an interaction between the skin’s immune system and the sun itself.
This may lead to the development of allergic reactions to the skin or the skin itself.
But for people who do not suffer from a skin condition, the risk of developing an allergic reaction is extremely low.
“Because the sun is the main source of UV radiation for most people, the response of the body is generally very similar to that of a normal person,” says dermatologist Dr. Avi Zang, who is a consultant at the dermatology institute of the Gomel hospital in Tel Aviv and heads the dermatological services division of the Israel Medical Center.
“And there is not a large risk of adverse reactions from direct exposure to sunlight.
The risk is about the same for everyone.”
What is the connection between sun exposure and skin disorders?
“It is a little bit like the difference between driving and driving on the highway,” says Zang.
“The person driving may have a lower risk of a traffic accident than the person sitting in the passenger seat.”
In general, the higher the exposure, the more likely it is that the skin may react to the type of sun that is present