Getting a tan makes you more prone to infections, warns new study

Crowded beach on a hot summer day
New research has examined the impact tanning on holiday can have on skin. (Getty Images)

We all know about the damage the sun's harmful rays can do to our skin, but now researchers have confirmed that getting a tan can make people more prone to infections.

A study has shown that prolonged exposure to the sun can also cause damage to the DNA in skin cells leading to inflammation and premature skin ageing.

The skin is the largest human organ, comprised of surface bacteria that are collectively known as microbiota, which help to protect against infections and disease.

It is these bacteria that are affected by sun exposure.

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Participants' skin microbiota were assessed prior to a seven-day holiday to sunny destinations. They were also reviewed on day one of their holiday as well as 28 and 84 days after their return home.

The researchers, from the University of Manchester, put the 21 holidaymakers into three groups according to their individual tanning response:

  1. 'Seekers': This group included eight of the participants, who picked up a tan while on holiday.

  2. 'Tanned': This group was made up of seven people who already had a tan at departure and retained it throughout their holiday.

  3. 'Avoiders': The remaining six participants were classified in this way due to no changes to their skin tone pre- and post-holiday.

The development of a tan is associated with "lower proteobacteria abundance immediately post-holiday," confirms lead researched Dr Abigail Langton.

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Close up of woman applying moisturiser on sunburned skin (Getty Creatives)
A decrease in skin bacterial richness has been linked with dermatitis. (Getty Images)

The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging, also found that a decrease in skin bacterial richness has been previously linked with dermatitis. Plus, fluctuation in proteobacteria diversity was associated with skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.

The good news is that the microbiota of all those studied recovered a few weeks after they stopped spending extended periods of time in the sun.

Dr Langton and her team believe more studies are needed to examine why proteobacteria seem to be particularly sensitive to ultraviolet rays.

Undeterred people are still likely to seek sunnier climates and so the research may support the trend for opting for fake tans and SPF products.

The NHS advises people to cover up with suitable clothing including sun hats and sunglasses and use use at least factor 30 sunscreen.