No Tan is a Safe Tan - Melissa Clements, MD - Oklahoma City
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No Tan is a Safe Tan

No Tan is a Safe Tan

In response to my then 6th grade daughter’s request to go tanning with her friends I once responded, “I would rather give you a pack of cigarettes and smoke it with you than have you go to a tanning bed.” Crestfallen, my husband retrieved the 11 year old as friends departed for a session in what the host girl’s mother had called a “really nice, clean, safe” tanning parlor.

As the shortest day of the year approaches and many seek ways to avoid looking wan it is worth repeating cautionary messages to avoid unnecessary exposure of skin to ultraviolet light, especially artificial tanning sources. Tans and burns are visible evidence of damage to the skin and subsequent alterations in the immune system that can have long-term impacts. NO tan is a safe tan.

Indoor tanning causes accelerated aging, thickening, and wrinkling of the skin. A single exposure is associated with dramatic increases in the risk and incidence of basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and melanomas; the risk increases with each use and is particularly perilous in those under 35 years of age. Indoors tanning causes suppression of the immune system, burns, damage to the eyes including the development of cataracts and ocular melanomas, and potential life-threatening interactions with medications. Annually more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer, of which 6,000 are melanomas, arise in association with indoor tanning in the U.S.

Nearly 70,000 melanomas will be diagnosed and 10,000 deaths result from melanoma in the U.S. by year’s end. Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. in young adults aged 25-29 and the second most common cancer in ages 15-29. Of the 7 most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. melanoma is the only one whose incidence continues to rise, especially in young age groups. A single exposure to UV light in tanning beds tangibly increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Before making a trip to a tanning parlor consider a few facts. The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization both recognize UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources as known carcinogens in the same category as tobacco use. One minute of tanning bed exposure in northern climes is twice as carcinogenic as one minute of midday Mediterranean sun. Newer model tanning beds are no safer than their predecessors. A base tan is not a safe tan. Indoor tanning is not a safe way to get Vitamin D.

Artificial tanning agents have come a long way in recent years and are believed to be safe to use. However, they do not protect the skin from harmful UV rays and should be used in conjunction with protective clothing and broad spectrum sunscreens. None of us wants to live in a root cellar. Be smart as concerns exposure to UV light. Seek shade and avoid midday sun. Opt for protective clothing including broad-brimmed hats, long sleeves and pants, and sunglasses. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 daily and apply as directed. Fight the urge to visit a tanning bed!