We all know it’s bad for us, yet on an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people tan in tanning salons.
I too was one of those people who visited tanning salons on a regular basis. From my junior year in high school well into my senior year of college, I was an infrequent user. I would sign up for a tanning package before a big dance, graduation, or randomly during the winter months to mask my paleness.
It was the summer before my first year of graduate school when I stopped going completely. Of course I always KNEW how bad tanning was for me, but it was my insecurities that led me into the salons every time. My excuses were that it helped my complexion, it made me feel better about myself, and the oldest one in the book, that it helped with my depression.
The truth is that the tanning beds just dried up my skin and made it darker, so blemishes were less noticeable (not like I ever had acne anyways), and tanning never really made me feel 100% more confident with my body – it was just a cop out. And yes, it does give off some vitamin D, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “studies showing links between vitamin D and other health conditions are inconsistent. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, the safest way is through diet or supplements. Tanning harms your skin, and the amount of time spent tanning to get enough vitamin D varies from person to person.”
According to the CDC, “Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from indoor tanning equipment is the most important preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Indoor tanning before age 35 increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma by 75 percent. Sunburn indicates too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation.”
Yet, nearly 28 million American tan indoors annually (AAD). Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.
That summer when I completely stopped going to tanning beds was when I decided to have my first visit with a dermatologist. It was the least I could do for my poor skin that had suffered from hours of “fake baking.” The dermatologist said that I had a TON of moles, and even deemed me the “Queen of Moles.” That first visit I was told I needed to get five of my moles removed because they were abnormal and would possibly be cancerous.
A couple weeks later, I came back and had them removed. It was fast and easy – slightly painful. They numbed the area around each mole with a shot and then scraped them off with a knife – I’m sure there’s a technical name for the device, but we’ll just call it a knife. The shots were what was painful, and especially in some of the particular areas of my body. Some of the areas where I had moles removed were places where the sun has never shined, but the tanning bulbs had!
Having those moles removed and the assurance from my wonderful dermatologist on how bad tanning is for people made me never want to tan again.
A couple months ago one of the assistants found an abnormal mole between two of my toes on my right foot. That was a bad sign. My dermatologist went on to tell me that moles that appear in places like between the toes, fingers, or on the soles of your feet are more likely to be melanoma… So, I had to go see a surgical dermatologist because it would be more difficult to get to and they would need to go deeper to remove the mole.
After waiting a couple months to get the surgery, since I was in the midst of training for triathlons and a marathon (the surgical dermatologist assured me I’d be OK to wait a little longer), I was FINALLY scheduled to have it removed and biopsied. LUCKILY, they came back negative – NO CANCER. ((whewwww)) But, because of my risk factors, keeping track of my skin and moles is something that I need to take seriously.
Debunking the Myths (from the CDC and my Dermatologist, Dr. Cohn):
“Tanning indoors is safer than tanning in the sun.”
Indoor tanning and tanning outside are both dangerous. Although tanning beds operate on a timer, the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can vary based on the age and type of light bulbs. You can still get a burn from tanning indoors, and even a tan indicates damage to your skin. Tanning beds cause about 1,800 injuries requiring visits to the emergency room every year.
“I can use a tanning bed to get a base tan, which will protect me from getting a sunburn.”
A tan is a response to injury: skin cells respond to damage from UV rays by producing more pigment. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is by using these tips for skin cancer prevention.
“Indoor tanning is a safe way to get vitamin D, which prevents many health problems.”
Vitamin D is important for bone health, but studies showing links between vitamin D and other health conditions are inconsistent. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, the safest way is through diet or supplements. Tanning harms your skin, and the amount of time spent tanning to get enough vitamin D varies from person to person.
“My dermatologist prescribed me to tan for my acne.”
You probably want to go see a different dermatologist if they’re telling you this. My dermatologist is 100% against tanning beds and says that those dermatologists are wrong and putting their patients in danger. The truth is that yes, the bulbs in the beds dries out your skin, so there’s less oil, hence less pimples. The darker your complexion, the least likely you are to notice blemishes. So tanning for acne or other skin conditions is purely for cosmetic reasons. If your dermatologist prescribes you with tanning, he or she is just looking out for your appearance, not your health. Tanning will not cure your acne or other skin condition, it is just downright incorrect and dangerous
Risks of indoor tanning (AAD)
- The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).6
- Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, including beds, lamps, bulbs, booths, etc., emits UVA and UVB radiation. The amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger.7,8
- Studies have found a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning, and the risk increases with each use.9,10,11
- Evidence from several studies has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.1,2,10,12
- Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to premature skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma. 1,13-16
- In addition to the above mentioned risks, frequent, intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning.17
- Indoor tanning beds/lamps should be avoided and should not be used to obtain vitamin D because UV radiation from indoor tanning is a risk factor for skin cancer. Vitamin D can be obtained by a eating a healthy diet and by taking oral supplements.
- In a recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users, it was found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps.18
- The FDA estimates that there are about 3,000 hospital emergency room cases a year due to indoor tanning bed and lamp exposure.19
Schedule a Full Body Check with a Dermatologist, TODAY!
Everyone, regardless of age or skin tone, should visit their dermatologist for a full body check once per year. However, If you are at a higher risk for development of skin cancer you should visit the dermatologist twice per year (like me). You are considered high risk if you have a fair complexion, freckles, red or blonde hair or you have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past,
And remember, between visits it is important to be familiar with your own body. Know every mole or freckle, so if it changes you will notice and can get into your dermatologist to get it check out.
Dermatologists suggest using the ABCDE rule.
A – Asymmetry: One half is different than the other half
B – Border of Irregularity: The edges are notched, uneven or blurred
C – Color: The color is uneven. Shades of brown, tan and black are present
D – Diameter: The diameter is greater than 6 mm
E – Evolving: The mole is changing or growing
My hope in writing this post is for everyone who reads this (no matter how small the number) make an appointment to see their dermatologist for a full body scan. It may be embarrassing at first being completely naked and have a doctor check over every part of of your body, but it’s worth it… It’s worth it to save your life.
It’s also worth to cancel your tanning package and stop putting your skin through the ultimate torture. There are plenty of ways for us pasty people to get a “glow” through lotions and, if you’re so inclined, spray tanning.
So, please stop burning your skin and show it some love! You’re beautiful just the way you are!