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Toxic Tanning

Toxic Tanning Bed
Run Martina, the sunbed is turned on!

Before heading out for fun at the beach, millions of people visit tanning salons. The goal is typically to get a good "base tan" so they can stay out in the sun longer and are less likely to burn.

In a salon, you are exposed to lights that emit ultraviolet (UV) rays for as short as 2 or 3 minutes, up to as much as 15 or 20 minutes. There are a couple types of UV rays that the lamps give off, UVA and UVB. The "B" rays tend to cause burns so tanning bulbs are designed to limit or eliminate them. Think of "B" for BURN.

The "A" rays don't produce quite as immediate an effect as the "B" rays do, but unfortunately, they penetrate much deeper. As UVA rays dig into your skin, they damage skin cells called keratinocytes. Those are found in the basal layer of the epidermis. That's also the same place where most skin cancers occur. The more you're exposed to UVA radiation, the higher your chances are of getting skin cancer. Think of "A" for AGING.

The scary fact is, some sunlamps put out UVA doses that are 12 times the intensity of the sun. The danger is so extreme, in 2009 the World Health Organization called Sunbeds "carcinogenic to humans" and put them in the same category as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agrees, calling indoor tanning devices "serious health risks."

The numbers are staggering. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, "... people who use tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent."

That's not all. JAMA Dermatology released a study titled, “International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning -- A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The most amazing revelation was their conclusion that, "The number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking."

The estimate is that approximately 419,254 cases of skin cancer can be attributed to indoor tanning EVERY YEAR. 6,199 of those skin cancers are melanoma cases. We put warning messages on every pack of cigarettes, but many places routinely allow children to freely use tanning salons, dramatically increasing the likelihood that they will develop cancer later in life.

Early exposure is especially dangerous. The damage caused by UV rays is cumulative, so repeated exposure makes it worse. If you tan before the age of 35, your melanoma risk is 60 percent greater than people who start tanning after that age.

Sunbed Tanning
Tanning in a sunbed.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings study noted that in young women, indoor UV tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who never tanned indoors. Jump in a tanning bed just four times a year and you increase your risk of developing melanoma by a frightening 11 percent.

It's important to understand what suntans really are. It's damaged skin that grows thicker and becomes less elastic. Over time the damaged skin begins to sag, fine lines appear, then wrinkles and brown spots. That's on top of the increased risk of cancer and developing cataracts.

Getting a "base tan" is nothing more than damaging your skin.

The people that use indoor tanners should have the risks clearly explained. A large warning label needs to be put on every device stating the dangers.

John Oliver asking the question, Tanning Beds, How is this still a thing?

Please notice I did NOT say there should be an outright ban, like there is in other countries. We don't ban cigarettes, they're regulated. We don't ban alcohol, it's regulated. I don't think we should ban indoor tanning, we should simply regulate it more carefully.

There are legitimate therapeutic uses for UV exposure and tanning beds are an inexpensive way to get those treatments. BUT, it's time to stop kids under the age of 18 from using them unless they have a doctor's prescription.

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Updated 5/27/2015
Updated 8/4/2016

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  • "Sunbathing may boost enrophins in the body and brain. Mice produce feel-good molecule in response to regular exposure to ultraviolet light." - Science News - July 26, 2014

    Identify Suspicious Moles

    Asymmetry - Draw a line through the center of the mole. If both halves match, it's symmetrical and may be OK. If both sides don't match, it's asymmetrical and time to get checked.

    Border - A jagged, uneven, notched or scalloped edge is a warning sign.

    Color - Moles that have a combination of colors or with uneven colors need to be checked. Melanomas can also turn red, white or blue.

    Diameter - Moles that are larger than the eraser on a number 2 pencil should be examined.

    Evolving - Any mole that changes or evolves in any way need to be checked out by a dermatologist. You're watching for a change in color, elevation, shape, size or for bleeding or itching.