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Tanning Oil

July 20, 2010

Using tanning oil to get a speedier tan can damage skin more quickly.


A speedier tan?…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many people apply oil in hopes of tanning more quickly. Carolyn from Takoma Park, Maryland wants to know if this really works. We asked Wake Forest University School of Medicine dermatologist Steve Feldman. He says our skin is covered with a layer of dead scales which have a high refractive index, meaning they reflect ultraviolet rays off the skin, making it harder to tan.

STEVE FELDMAN (Wake Forest University School of Medicine):
Applying oil to the skin helps lower the refractive index, and therefore makes more light penetrate. So oil will help increase the amount of ultraviolet that gets in and will therefore speed tanning.

But he warns, getting a faster tan results in more sun damage, which can lead to skin cancer and wrinkles. He says it’s safer to wear sunscreen and avoid tanning altogether. If you have a science question, give us a call at 1-800-why-isit. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the Science society.