The tan line

Paul Adamson
November 17, 2018

It was one long, hot summer this year. And it felt great – even if the occasional rainy day came as a welcome relief. People arrived for their massage sporting impressive tans –though I find the tan line, deeply tanned back and pink buttocks, for example, irresistibly comical. I’ve always been envious of those people who seem to be able to tan after going out in the sun for about an hour. I’ve never really had the commitment to build up a tan – things go well for the first few days but then I get bored. I lie down on Highbury Fields opposite my house but then I think I’d rather be reading so I go sit on a bench. Soon the bench becomes uncomfortable so I go back indoors…

Skin never fails to amaze me – such a fabulously complex organ that protects us, regulates the heat of our bodies, excretes toxins, resists water – and makes us look fabulously attractive!

Except of course a lovely tan is actually sign of damage. Cells called melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that absorbs ultraviolet light from the sun. This ultraviolet light can damage or destroy the DNA in cells, causing mutations that can turn into cancers. Although we tend to think that a suntan is a sign of health, it’s actually the visible response to skin trauma, since the pigment had been produced to shield our cells’ DNA from danger.

It used to be that very white skin was what people aspired to have – only labourers, farmers and other lower class people had to work out in the sun. Now that the dangers of the sun’s rays are better understood, pale skin may come back into fashion. More likely, sales of suntan cream will continue to soar.    

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