The Dangers of Tanning Beds and Teens
As the popularity of indoor tanning increases, so do the risks of skin cancer.
For teenage girls and young women, being tan is as much a part of being attractive as wearing the right shade of lip gloss.
And it’s not just sun tanning that attracts these groups.
Close to one-third of girls in 12th grade use some form of indoor tanning, exposing them to ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) radiation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.
Health experts, citing the potential dangers, would like to turn this around.
People who frequent tanning salons run a higher risk of developing melanoma as well as other skin cancers, are more susceptible to skin infections and more likely to show early signs of aging, say dermatologists.
The key is finding skin-protection arguments that resonate with young women. Dispelling myths may help. Here are some of the most prevalent:
You don’t get skin cancer until you’re older.
Not true, say health experts.
The number of children diagnosed with melanoma has increased an average of two percent a year since the 1970s with significantly higher rates among white teenage girls than among boys and younger children, according to new research published in the journal, Pediatrics.
“Melanoma strikes sooner. You don’t need a lifetime of exposure,” says Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, co-author of the study. Dr. Rodriguez-Galindo is clinical director of the pediatric solid tumor program, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Boston.
UV doses from tanning beds aren’t as strong as natural sunlight.
“UV doses can be 12 times stronger than midday sun,” says Dr. Dawn Marie R. Davis, pediatric dermatologist, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
In addition, the potential damage isn’t just to the skin. UV light exposure could increase the risk of cataracts and melanoma of the eye, according to Dr. Davis.
Visiting tanning salons for special occasions is harmless.
“Teens think if they don’t go that often they won’t have problems,” says Dr. Bruce A. Brod, clinical associate professor of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, Philadelphia.
“Even if you use a tanning salon a few times a year you’ll have a higher risk of skin cancer,” Dr. Brod says.
Tanning beds are sanitary.
That may not be the case.
“I’ve seen outbreaks of skin infection from tanning beds,” Dr. Brod says.
Tanning makes people look youthful.
“People who use tanning salons, even at a moderate amount, start getting sunspots on their face and hands, even at a young age,” Dr. Brod says.
“They start to get fine wrinkles around their eyes and cheeks when they smile. Frequent tanners will start to see these signs in their 20’s and 30’s,” he says.
Celebrities do it.
Looks can be deceiving. The star on the cover of your favorite magazine may be sporting a spray-on tan, Dr. Brod says.
The moral of the story is to exercise extreme caution.
“I tell patients I don’t want them to be the story that makes their friends practice photo protection,” says Dr. Davis, a pediatric dermatologist, who offers cautions and tips for year-round sun safety.
Sun can be reflected and intensified any time of the year.
“You can go snow skiing in the middle of the winter and still get a burn,” she says.
Similarly, you can get a burn on a cloudy day as UV light penetrates clouds.
“Be aware of what’s going on,” she says.
Pick a sunscreen that’s labeled broad spectrum and with SPF of 30 or greater when you’re in the sun. Reapply every two or three hours, especially if you’re active, Dr. Davis advises.
For more information on teens and tanning salons, including state regulations on tanning restrictions for minors, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm
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