Tanning beds cause more than just wrinkles

Published: October 12th, 2011

Category: Student Health Care Center Blog

Tanning beds cause more than just wrinkles

People who use tanning beds before age 30 are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which is responsible for the most skin cancer deaths each year. College students are at MAJOR risk here. While the dangers of skin cancer might not be news, this is an important reminder to stay away from tanning beds!

What’s wrong with tanning beds?

Tanning beds are classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, joining asbestos, mustard gas, plutonium, sunlight and tobacco smoke on the list of the world’s most dangerous cancer-causing agents. This reinforces recommendations by the World Health Organization to avoid sunlamps and tanning salons and to protect yourself from overexposure.

What’s the problem with tanning in general?

Long-term exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays like tanning beds, or to the sun’s natural rays, increases both men’s and women’s risk of developing skin cancer. In addition, exposure to tanning salon rays increases damage caused by sunlight because ultraviolet light actually thins the skin, making it less able to heal. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 1 million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in the U.S. every year. In fact, non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. Forty to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have this form of skin cancer at least once. These are startling statistics for a cancer that can, for the most part, be prevented.

Am I at risk?

Almost everyone who frequents a tanning salon or exposes themselves to the sun is putting themselves at risk for skin cancer. The risk is greatest for people with fair skin; blonde, red or light hair; and blue, green or gray eyes. Artificial tanning can also be more dangerous for those who burn easily, have already been treated for skin cancer or have a family member who has had skin cancer. In addition, women have a higher risk of contracting skin cancer on their legs, and men have a higher risk of getting it on their backs.

How can I prevent skin cancer?

There are various things than one can do to prevent their exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays:

  • Avoid tanning beds and booths.
  • Instead of going to a tanning salon, try tanning sprays. In fact, some salons now provide only tanning spray services.
  • Regardless of your exposure to natural or artificial UV rays, conduct a monthly skin self-exam looking for any abnormalities (like bumps or sores that don’t heal) or moles that have changed size, color or shape. Be sure to check all areas. Have a friend or family member check your back.
  • Visit your physician or a dermatologist to get annual exams. If caught early, skin cancer is now almost 100 percent curable.

The bottom line?

Long-term exposure to artificial (or natural) sources of ultraviolet rays increases one’s risk of developing skin cancer; however, there are alternatives one can take to minimize the risk associated with artificial rays such as using sunless tanning lotions or sprays in concert with regular skin checks by your physician or dermatologist.

Information provided by Susan Millan, MD, SHCC Team H/Dermatology Clinic

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