SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — Back to school means new classes, clothes and schedules, including a heavy calendar of social events. Unfortunately, many young adults, particularly young women, head to indoor tanning salons in preparation for high school and college dances in the fall. Despite repeated warnings about the dangers of indoor tanning and the fact that there is no such thing as a healthy tan, many women feel peer and societal pressure to be tan, thereby putting their health at risk.
Using indoor tanning beds can raise the risk of getting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent. In fact, melanoma is increasing faster in young women (15-29 years old) than in young men in the same age group – and a major difference in behavior is that women are more likely to use indoor tanning beds. Nearly 28 million people tan indoors in the United States annually. Of these, 2.3 million are teens.
“While many health issues are complex and involve multiple factors, we know that ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer and avoiding excessive exposure is the solution,” said Elizabeth S. Martin, MD, FAAD, a Birmingham-based dermatologist in private practice. “Yet despite this knowledge, the number of skin cancers continues to rise each year. Even more disheartening is the fact that teens continue to tan despite the known health risks.”
Several misconceptions by teens may be at play, according to Dr. Martin, including the false belief that indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors. The fact is the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases might be stronger.
In addition, young adults may think that skin cancer will never happen to them. This is not the case as more than 2 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year.
“Dermatologists are seeing more and more young women in their offices with serious cases of skin cancer, and these patients often have a history of indoor tanning,” said Dr. Martin. “Skin cancer, which used to be a disease mostly seen in older men, is ballooning in young women — the very target audience of the indoor tanning industry. It is unfortunate that the pressure young adults face to conform to cosmetic ideals presented in popular culture and advertising is so powerful, even with all we know about the dangers of tanning.”
Indoor tanning is so dangerous that the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer panel have declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial light sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen. Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, emits UVA and UVB radiation.
“Despite past claims by those in the tanning industry that UVA rays used in indoor tanning are safer because they do not cause sunburn, scientific evidence proves that this claim is untrue,” said Dr. Martin. “UVA rays cause deeper skin damage and are linked to melanoma. Therefore, self-tanning lotions or spray-on tans are the only safe way to achieve a tan look.”
Sunless tanning lotions and sprays contain dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which interacts with the proteins in the skin to produce a tan that gradually fades. Recent technological advances have resulted in longer-lasting formulations and more realistic looking results, as opposed to the orange-ish hue of previous generations of self-tanners.
“It’s important to remember though that the color produced by a self-tanner does not provide adequate sun protection for your skin, so be sure to continue to generously apply a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that provides broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays to all exposed skin,” said Dr. Martin.
Preparing for a dance shouldn’t come with health risks, remarks Dr. Martin. “Tanning for social events is not worth the lifetime of damage to your skin and the potential for skin cancer. I encourage young adults to seek alternatives to tanning and embrace their natural skin color, and encourage their friends to do the same.”
Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 16,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org.