Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Does brown fat look better than white fat?

I learned early on in the practice of dermatology that patients like to look tan. It just seems to be a part of human DNA.

It just feels good for most people to be out in the Sun.

There is all the hubbub about melatonin, endorphins, and the like that are released when you spend the day sitting by the pool. But, personally, I think most folks simply think they look better tan.

I've spend the better part of my professional career with a sideline passion of stamping out the tanning bed industry.

They have been a likable lot to spar with: they're always tan, smile a lot (I think they also bleach their teeth -- I'll save that for another blog), and generally espouse junk science about the benefits of being naked inside of an adult sized EZ Bake oven.

And probably I would have had a hard time convincing the state legislature that they needed to be regulated if ten-year-olds hadn't been also subjected to tanning beds.

Yes, it's true. (I'll save parenting for another blog too.)

Tanning is addictive.

There are multiple studies about the addictive nature of recreational tanning. But do you really need a study to convince you that 20 minutes alone every day in a warm cocoon away from your phone (you can insert boss, teachers, children, whatever here) and listening to your iPod must feel good?

Men my age do the same thing with ESPN. It's called zoning out.

Now the difference is that men end up with love handles and an extra 20 pounds somewhere. Tanners end up looking cool.

And when you are fat and tan you look better than if you're fat and a stark white guy. At least that's what my patients tell me.

So is there a connection now with the epidemic we have of adult obesity and tanning? That's the question I pose.

Tanning certainly crosses cultural and BMI lines. There are thousands of self proclaimed health nuts who spend an hour at gym, cycle a hundred miles, or who run marathons and are as dark as a mahogany chest of drawers.

I've talked with these patients many times but I just can't break the nut of making them stop tanning. They just feel too good until they get a melanoma.

I had a patient recently ask me, "Just what am I supposed to do? I have to be outside."

The answer is you can be outside, but be smart about it.

Wear sunscreen of at least an SPF 30 (ignore those recommendations of SPF 15 or more; they were written by people near Canada), avoid mid-day sun and exercise or work outdoors in the morning or late afternoon, and wear a hat.

No one expects you to be a bat and live in a cave. You have to live your life and enjoy it.

But what about those people who don't exercise, eat a regular diet of McDonald's, and are well, not skinny?

Do they feel they look better if they are tan?

I think they do.

Of course the activities that get you tan are not bad: vacationing in Cancun, sitting by the pool, fishing with your buddies, or even recreational tanning.

But people look at their skin, fat or skinny, and perceive that it looks better if it's bronze. We have created a culture that tan equals health.

This of course is now regardless of body mass index.

But its not. That is, neither being fat or tan is healthy.

Both lead to their own independent set of problems.

So what can you do about it?

Well, for the fat part, we all know what to do (execution may be difficult): eat less and exercise more.

But for the tan part we have been stymied in the past because the only way to get tan was the primordial sitting on a beach towel in the sun, or paying $30 a month for a membership at Planet Tan.

There was always the "self tanner."

But for many of us this was the Vitalis-like concoction QT, a brown liquid that left your knees, hands, and elbows looking like a navel orange.

This scared a generation of Americans away from chemical, inorganic, and preservative containing self tanning products. And into the hands of a dermatologist treating skin cancer.

But that's not true anymore. Now there are a host of self tanners and spray on tanning devices that offer tans indistinguishable from those obtained the old fashioned way.

Neutrogena makes a very nice product that sprays a micro spray of self tanner that works very well. Its "no rub" nature makes it easy to apply in the morning before work and its slow onset of action just makes you start to look tan over a few days.

The machine of choice right now seems to be a device called Mystic Tan. Briefly, you stand upright, hold out your arms, listen to some Star War's type beeping, and it sprays you like a car wash. With a little rub down when your done and you have instant tan.

And finally there is the newest phenomenon: air brush tanning.

Long only available to either the rich and famous or those on Dancing with the Stars, airbrush tanning has now entered the mainstream marketplace.

Most places are charging between $25 to $35 and a technician sprays on the non-toxic, harmless tanning spray while you either wear paper undergarments or go commando.

It usually doesn't require any wiping down, dries instantly, and looks very natural.

Read: very natural. I'm the so called expert and I can't tell unless I look close.

And its a whole lot safer than baking in the sun or sitting in a tanning bed, regardless of your weight.

So, the best advice is to lose weight, eat a healthy diet, and stay out of the sun. But if you want to be tan, do self tanning.

Why? Because self-tanned fat looks better than tan real fat.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Angelo, Texas

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