In Skin Cancer

We all know that after a long, cold winter, the desire to have glowing tanned skin can be tempting. However, your days of laying in a tanning bed should be over. Dermatologists everywhere have strongly advised against tanning both indoors in a tanning bed and outdoors in the sun. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, people who have used tanning beds 10 or more times have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma compared with those who have never used tanning beds. Furthermore, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

For many years, tanning beds were labeled as a safer alternative to outdoor tanning, without any evidence of that being true. We now understand the risks associated with all ultraviolet light exposure and have created safer alternatives to achieve bronzed skin.

In this article, our clinical dermatologists educate you about tanning risks as well as provide a few safe approaches to achieve a healthy glow.

Why skip the tanning bed?

While skin cancer is the most serious concern related to indoor tanning, exposure to ultraviolet light can cause many other issues such as sun spots, wrinkles, eye damage and premature aging. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “healthy glow” from tanning. When you use a tanning bed to tan, you are damaging your skin by exposing yourself to harmful UV rays. Every time you tan, you are increasing your risk of melanoma.

Indoor tanning is especially dangerous for young people. So much so that federal, state and local governments are taking action to protect anyone under 18 from exposure to these harmful UV rays. Thirteen states and many local jurisdictions have already banned the use of tanning beds by minors. The U.S. Department of Health has even set a goal to reduce the number of high school students who use artificial lighting for tanning by 14 percent by the year 2020.

No benefit to a “base tan”

There are many misconceptions about indoor tanning. One thing many people reference is the need for a “base tan.” People often think a base tan is a natural protection against sunburn. In fact, by getting a base tan, you are still doing damage to your skin while increasing your chances of skin cancer. A tan is your body’s response to injury from UV rays; therefore even a base tan is damaging your skin and does little to protect you from future UV exposure. The healthiest way to avoid a sunburn is by using sunscreen.

Indoor tanning is even more harmful

Another myth perpetuated by the tanning industry is that indoor tanning is safer than outdoor tanning. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, research shows the steady intensity of UV radiation from tanning beds makes them even more damaging than being in the sun. Indoor tanning beds expose you to both UVA and UVB rays, both of which can harm your skin and cause skin cancer.

Indoor tanning is also not a safe source of vitamin D, yet another widespread myth. You can get enough vitamin D from food sources and dietary supplements including:

  • Fish, especially fatty fish
  • Orange juice
  • Milk
  • Yogurt, cheese and other dairy products
  • Cereals fortified with vitamin D

Achieving a “safe tan”

Although there is no such thing as a truly safe tan from UV light, there are ways to get the glow you’re after without spending time in a tanning bed or the sun. If you’re looking for bronzed skin without the health risks, there are many artificial tanning options on the market.

For self-tanning, look for a product that contains the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is completely safe to use. You can find self-tanning products containing DHA in the form of lotions, sprays, foams and wipes. Most of these products are fast-acting and will give your skin a darker appearance in just a few hours or less.

Another option is a spray tan, which will give you a beautiful all-over glow without the harmful UV exposure. Spray tanning uses DHA to deliver an instant bronze, and they typically offer a more even tan without the mess of self-tanners.

Protecting your skin

While we focused on avoiding indoor tanning, tanning outdoors is just as dangerous. Skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are all associated with tanning both indoors and outdoors.

Protect yourself by using sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection and an SPF of at least 30. Limit direct exposure to the sun and reapply sunscreen every two hours.

Another way to protect yourself against skin cancer is to schedule a regular skin cancer screening with your dermatologist. Columbia Skin Clinic’s board-certified dermatologists offer in-office skin cancer screenings at all three of our convenient Midlands locations. Contact us to schedule an appointment today.