All-over tan is a myth, study finds

An even all-over tan may be unattainable as some body areas are more resistant to tanning than others, a study has found.

Researchers at the University say the results explain why some holidaymakers find it so hard to achieve an even tan all over their body.

The findings, published in the journal Experimental Dermatology, show that the buttock is much more resistant to sunshine.

But when it does go red it tans less well than other areas.

It was also found that people with no freckles tanned more easily than those with freckling.

Skin cancer puzzle

The study - funded by the Medical Research Council - represents the first time that the depth of a person’s tan, and not just skin redness, has been quantified.

The fact that different types of skin cancer tend to be found in different parts of the body has long puzzled scientists, given that they are all caused by exposure to sunshine.

The team aimed to identify whether this is linked to variations in the way different parts of the body develop a tan.

Natural protection

The team analysed the skin of 100 volunteers, who were exposed to six dose of UVB on two areas of their body - their back and their buttock.

The volunteers were given an injection to minimise the rush of blood that naturally occurs after the skin is exposed to sunlight within the first 24 hours.

Researchers say this redness is often confused with the start of tanning, but in fact is the skin’s signal that it has been damaged.

After seven days, the volunteers’ skin was analysed to find what colour remained after the redness had died down.

This colour - recognised as a suntan - comes from the skin’s production of melanin, a defence that blocks the skin absorbing too much harmful UVB radiation.

One of the real puzzles about melanoma is why the numbers of tumours differ so much depending on body site. Our work shows that in one sense we are all made up of different units of skin, which respond differently to sunshine, and which all may afford different degrees of protection against the harmful effects of sunshine.

Professor Jonathan Rees

Chair of Dermatology at the University

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