Aug. 2, 2012 at 5:56 PM ET
What a difference a month without tanning makes.
Patricia Krentcil, the so-called “tan mom,” is revealing her new lighter looks after being offered a photo shoot by In Touch magazine if she went a month without any sun or tanning-bed time. Photos just published in the new issue show a smiling 44-year-old with a healthy, natural glow, a sharp contrast with the dark, leathery complexion that turned her into the butt of jokes after she was charged with allowing her young daughter into a tanning booth with her.
“Everyone says I look so much better less tan,” Krentcil told the magazine. “I feel weird and pale.”
Although Krentcil looks healthier than she did in some of her more extreme photos, experts interviewed by TODAY.com cautioned that it takes a lot longer than 30 days for skin to really begin to recover and that it will never completely heal from years of UV damage.
“It hurts my eyes just to look at her,” said Dr. Suzan Obagi, an associate professor of dermatology and surgery and director of the cosmetic surgery and skin health center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “She’s done a significant amount of damage over the years. She’s broken down the collagen that gives the skin its firmness and the elastin that gives the skin the ability to rebound after you stretch it. That’s why you see those wrinkles.”
But Krentcil and others like her are not beyond hope, Obagi said.
“It’s not something that is going to look better in one, two, or three months,” she explained. “But skin does have the ability to repair itself. It’s rather remarkable. It won’t be 100 percent, but she will see her skin texture become softer. And it will function better as it builds up more collagen and elastin.”
If Krentcil wants her skin to continue to improve she may need to get help from retinoid creams and possibly even laser surgery, Obagi said. For anyone who has worshipped the sun for years, the important thing is to avoid any more exposure, experts say.
“No matter how old you are, you can prevent further damage from being done by staying out of the sun and out of the tanning bed,” said Dr. Joseph Sobanko, an assistant professor of surgery and director of dermatology resident surgical education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
It’s not wrinkled, spotty skin that’s the real problem -- that’s just a sign your skin has sustained the kind of damage that will raise your risk of potentially deadly cancers, such as melanoma.
However, if Krentcil continues to protect her skin, she can drive down her risk of cancer, Obagi said.
“But in order to start reversing the risk, you have to be out of the sun for about 10 years,” she explained, adding that the risk will never be as low as it would be for someone who wasn’t a tanoholic.
The New Jersey stay-at-home mom admits that she had a tough time meeting the magazine’s challenge.
“I’ve had moments when I felt like ‘I need to be tan,’ and I did all the spray tans and lotions and creams, too – anything to get dark,” Krentcil told In Touch.
Tanning can be addiction, like smoking or gambling, sparking the release of the feel-good brain chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. “So when you tan, it makes you feel better,” said Sobanko.
If you’ve baked in the sun or tanning bed for years, new research shows that treatments geared to improve the skin’s appearance and health may also result in a reduced risk of cancer, Sobanko said.
“They can not only improve the skin quality, but they can also reduce the number of pre-cancerous lesions and slow the growth of skin cancers,” he added.
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