YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Personal Health

Your Body : The Caution Light for a Sunless Tan


Sounding just like a desperate smoker trying to kick the habit, the woman pleads her case.

"I'm really trying to stay out of the sun," she tells Beverly Hills dermatologist Steven Weiss. "I've cut down. But it's summer--and walking around with white, white legs is just too much to bear."

Now she thinks she has found the perfect "fix"--a "self-tan" lotion that darkens skin without the sun.

Indoor tanning isn't new, of course. Coppertone's QT, which debuted in 1960, has been a steady seller ever since, a company spokesman claims. But this season, several brand-new self-tan products--some sold at posh department store counters--are giving the old standby some stiff competition.

"We're out of stock in the factory," says Susan Donnelly of Chanel, which just introduced its own brand.

In most self-tan lotions, the active ingredient is a tongue-twister substance called dihydroxyacetone. "It reacts with the amino acids in the outer layer of epidermal cells to change the color," says Frank Akin of Schering-Plough Inc., a manufacturer of sunless tanning lotions.

But are indoor tan products safe? The American Cancer Society has taken no stand on self-tanning. But Weiss and several other dermatologists tell their patients to slather it on--evenly, or you'll look streaked--and enjoy.

"I'm not aware of any adverse long-term effects from dehydroxyacetone," says Dr. Pearl Grimes, an assistant professor of dermatology at King-Drew Medical Center. "The question is--do the preparations really work? Some patients find it gives them a yellowish color." Actually, the boom in self-tan products reflects Americans' new willingness to reduce skin cancer risk after years of medical preaching. If using self-tan lotion even a little "leads to people tanning less in the sun, it's a positive step," says Weiss.

But not everyone's aglow about indoor tanning. "Very fair-skinned people who don't tan in the sun have told us it just doesn't work for them," one department store salesman says. And some buyers might cringe at the investment. One application lasts about three days. At $12 or more a tube, it could be a dark but expensive summer.

Norplant Report Card

Norplant, an implantable birth control method not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration, gets high marks in a study just published by USC researchers in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Here's their report card: Once implanted in the upper arm, Norplant's six silastic capsules release the hormone levonorgestrel and prevent ovulation just as effectively as birth control pills. It works for three to five years. It doesn't seem to increase the risk of heart disease. And it's reversible. The capsules can be removed at any time, using only a local anesthetic.

Although it is still under review at the FDA, an influentia advisory panel recommended approval last April. Norplant could be on the American market by next summer.

The draw? One-shot compliance. "It will appeal most to those who have trouble remembering to take the Pill," believes Dr. Edward Savage, chief of gynecology at King-Drew Medical Center. Teen-agers will be clamoring for the prescription. And Norplant might be a more humane alternative to sterilization for women with below average intelligence, suggest Savage.

However, there are downsides. Up to a fifth of Norplant users get headaches. And up to 70% have longe menstrual periods.

Booze and Health

Heavy drinkers who consume three or more drinks a day may increase their risk of stroke while light to moderate drinkers could reduce it.

Those are the newest finding of Dr. Arthur Klatsky, chief of cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, who has studied the health effects of alcohol for about 20 years.

His results, published this month in the journal, Stroke, are based on a study of more than 100,000 patients seen at Kaiser in the early '80s. Patients were questioned about their drinking habit and then followed for up to seven years to determine if they suffered a stroke.

Heavy drinking seems to increase a deadly type of stroke caused by hemorrhaging in the brain. On the other hand, moderate alcohol consumption, which is no more than two drinks a day, seems to reduce the risk of a more common type of stroke caused by blood clots that plug the vessels supplying blood to the brain.

Klatsky isn't sure why moderate drinking may protect people, but he speculates that the alcohol may decrease the tendency for blood to clot or alternatively increase high-density lipoproteins, the so-called good cholesterol believed to reduce blockage of blood vessels.

Drinkers should not interpret the new study as an excuse to imbibe, Klatsky and other physicians emphasize. "Consuming alcohol solely to reduce stroke risk would not be medically recommended," says Dr. John Moseley, a neurosurgeon at St. John's Hospital in Santa

Talented Tenderizer

Picnic time? Beach day? Pack the meat tenderizer along with the first-aid kit, suggests Dr. Ricardo Martinez, clinical director of the Stanford University Hospital Emergency Department. It can help relieve pain when bees sting or jellyfish bite.

"Mix the tenderizer with water and put the paste on the painful spot," Martinez suggests. The tenderizer breaks down the protein found in the venom of wasps, bees, jellfishes and coral just as it does with meat proteins.

"I've heard good things about the tenderizer," says Dr. Alexander Lampone, medical director of St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

But it's no cure-all. "Don't count on tenderizer to eliminate the misery of mosquito bites," Martinez says.

Los Angeles Times Articles