Does Salt Water Help You Tan?

The picture on travel brochures of toned brown bodies in revealing bikinis or speedos looks wonderful and is very enticing. Unfortunately, it does not represent reality- at least not in the long term, where the results of exposure to the sun’s UV rays represent a very real threat to the human body.

There is no documented scientific evidence that suggests saltwater makes you tan. However, what is known is that significant damage is done to the human body by long periods of unprotected exposure, which results in premature skin aging and even cancer.

Despite how good that tan you got on holiday looks, it is actually the result of the suns UV rays attacking the body and the body defending itself. This is self-evident when you see the leathery skin condition of people who have spent vast amounts of time in the sun without sufficient protection.

Saltwater Does Not Help You Tan

Despite what you may read in magazines, spending hours on a beach and in the ocean is unhealthy for your body.

UV rays are relentless and will continue to arrive during daylight hours. Even if there is cloud cover on the beach, it does not prevent UV rays from passing through.

While exercise is good and exposure to the open air has enormous phycological benefits, the skin suffers.

The water does not magnify the UV rays (whether salt or not). However, the sun’s rays are reflected off many more surfaces.

These surfaces include sand, other people’s clothing, boats, and even contaminants in the water.

Some schools of thought are that the salt in the seawater is reflective and increases the volume of UV rays hitting the person’s skin. While there is no pier reviewed scientific evidence supporting this statement, if it did, it would not be a “good thing.”

The body already responds to UV rays by sensing it as a serious attack, so increasing the UV volume places more stress on already overworked systems.

Saltwater Is Not The Reason Why People Tan

The reason why people tan on the beach and in salty sea water has nothing to do with the water and everything to do with the sun’s UV rays (in particular UVA and UVB rays).

The quantities of melanin control the color of the skin. People of different nationalities owe the color of their skin pigment to the genetic disposition of that group of people.

When exposed to the sun (or artificial sunning light), the skin is bombarded by two bands of ultraviolet light, as shown in the table below.

Bands of UVWavelengthHow much reaches the earthIs this dangerous
UVA315 to 399 nm nanometersThis is the main wavelength of UV which hits the earthThis causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, etc.
UVB280 to 314 nm nanometers95% of this band of UV light is filtered out by the atmosphere’s Oxygen (O2) and Ozone (O3).This wavelength causes delayed skin burn, tannin, and many skin diseases.
UVC100 to 279 nm nanometersThis is the most dangerous wavelength of UV light; however, it is filtered by the earth’s atmosphere, so none hits the earth.No anger because none hits the earth

The following sequence of events is initiated when the sun’s Ultraviolet light makes contact with the skin, and the person is not wearing any sun protection.

In The First Half Hour

  1. Many melanocytes (cells in the skin and eyes which produce melanin) are compromised and begin to self-destruct.
  2. To prevent damage and defend itself from what the body determines is an attack, the person’s immune system sends immune cells to the exposed areas being attacked.
  3. In response, the person’s blood cells grow in size, enabling the immune cells to get to the attack site quickly.
  4. The surviving melanocytes produce excess volumes of the skin pigment, pigment melanin.

Melanin acts as a protective cover over the skin cells, acting like a tarp that shields them from further attack from UV rays.

The remaining melanocytes produce excess volumes of melanin, which is why the skin turns a darker color and begins to tan.

The body is not acting this way for cosmetic purposes and is instead trying to cope with a major threat to its systems.

As great as it makes you look, the brown tan you achieved results from the body being attacked and initiating its amazing self-defense mechanism.

For nationalities of people with darker skin tones, there are already high volumes of melanin, which provides natural skin protection against burning.

Lilly white people from the northern climates have low melanin levels, whereas Africans and South Americans have substantially higher levels.

It’s Not Only Your Skin That Is Threatened

The UV rays which reach your eyes reinforce the circadian rhythm, which is why you sleep well after a day in the sun, but the downside of this is that they irradiate the lenses and corneas in your eyes, which causes a condition called eyeball sunburn (Photokeratitis.)

For The Rest Of The Day

As the day goes on, the blood vessels remain enlarged and continue to send large volumes of immune cells to the areas of skin being damaged (which will increase as you move around.)

While the immune cells are doing their work, the skin becomes a deeper intensity of red, and it begins to swell and become inflamed. We call this condition sunburn.

Unlike what many people think, sunburn is not caused by the sun’s heat (infrared waves, microwaves, and x-rays).

The Next Day

The “sunburn” is now clear for everyone to see. The blood vessels are still enlarged, and the immune cells are still doing their work; however, while the body originally produced melanin to defend against the V rays, it now switches its focus to repair.

The body will effectively repair most of the damaged skin cells if the person’s immune system is not compromised.

Unfortunately, some of the skin cells will begin to mutate and, by doing so, escape the repair process. In addition to possible damage to the DNA structure, this opens the body up to the potential of melanoma (skin cancer) starting.

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There is no scientifically based evidence that salt water helps you tan. While there is conjecture that the salt crystals increase the reflective quality of the water and therefore provide greater exposure to the sun’s UV rays, there is no proof that this is the case.

If proven to be true, it would add the danger of the UV rays causing more damage. Consequently, it would need to be avoided or, at the very least, protected against.