Historically, if a light-skinned person had a suntan, it meant that they were wealthy enough to afford leisure time. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and people all over the world are still trying to achieve this same, sun-baked, “I just came home from yachting” look. Over the years, many techniques have been tried and discarded in the race to be the perfect shade of brown in time for summer. One technique that has remained in use has been the use of baby oil in order to achieve a tan quickly. However, as more and more studies have tied skin cancer to harmful UVA and UVB rays, the use of baby oil as a tanning agent has come under fire.
How is a tan created?
A tan is created when the skin cells produce melanin in order to combat damage caused by exposure to excessive solar radiation. The longer and more intense the exposure, the more melanin is produced to combat the cellular damage. This melanin production occurs in two stages, rapid darkening, caused by the oxidation of current melanin, and a slower and longer lasting darkening caused by the production of new melanin.
The effects of baby oil
Using baby oil to tan does cause the skin to brown faster. However, the cause of this browning makes a baby oil tan terribly dangerous. Oil, which does not contain any sunscreens or sun blocks, heats up under the sun and essentially “cooks” the outer surface of the body, in much the same way as meat is browned in a skillet. For fair-skinned individuals it can lead to burns that require hospitalization. It is an especially dangerous method to use in hot, dry climates, as the oil burns onto the skin much faster without the hindrance of a damp environment.
No safe way to tan
Unfortunately, there really is no safe way to tan. If one chooses to tan outside, make sure to use a sun block or sunscreen and monitor how long one spends out in direct sunlight. Using a tanning bed allows one to control the UV rays, but it still causes damage. Tanning sprays uses a chemical that burns dead cells and therefore causes the skin to brown, but these sprays are not yet widely approved. If one must tan, the least invasive method currently available is over-the-counter makeup.