Our Preference For Unhealthy Mates
In western culture, we usually consider people who are tanned more attractive. However, the risks of tanning are by no means unknown. So why does everyone keep enjoying it? And why, if our evolutionary instincts are supposed to make us prefer mates who are stronger, healthier, and live longer, do we deliberately look for potential partners who have voluntarily exposed themselves to harmful ionizing radiation? Come on, humans!
So What’s the Problem?
First, we should be clear as to what the dangers of tanning actually are. A study showed that side effects of tanning include a higher risk of skin illnesses and cancers, and faster skin ageing. This is mostly a result of long exposure to UV radiation, which can really mess with you and your genes. Clearly, getting a tan comes with effects that are most definitely bad for your health, and, in the long term, are bad for your looks too. Also, before you ask, no, tanning beds are not a significantly safer option. Indoor tanning involves much of the same risks as the sun, and gives you a higher chance of being sunburned.
However, there are also clear benefits of being in the sun (in general, not specifically tanning). The biggest one that comes to mind, of course, is Vitamin D. However, the same study showed that moderate sun exposure is about as efficient as prolonged exposure at making Vitamin D, so spending hours basking isn’t exactly helpful. By the way, scientists still recommend that adequate Vitamin D in food is important; you can’t expect the sun to do everything for you. Being in the sun also makes people happier, but like everything that makes you happy, don’t overdo it. Keep in mind those health risks…
We Are Not Normal
It’s also worth mentioning that for most of human history, and still today in many parts of the world, the opposite trend holds. Many people, instead, want their skin to be as light as possible. Just saying.
“But I Insist…”
“ But I want to look good!” you say. Well, if you insist, here’s some tips. We can’t let obsessing over ideal or perfect health stop us from enjoying life entirely, and being outside in the sun has its advantages. But at the end of the day, and especially in the middle of the day, no amount of tan is completely safe.