The Health Risks of a Golden Tan

Fashion and trends are ever evolving, some trends are more rational than others, but most do not cause serious physical harm.  Unfortunately, indoor tanning does not fall in that safe but curious category, and comes with serious health risks.  We need to do better as dermatologists, parents, friends, and general members of society in educating ourselves and others on the proven risks of indoor tanning.    

In the United States 35% of adults have reported the use of indoor tanning beds.  Additionally, 52.5% of active indoor tanners started before the age of 21, and one third of these individuals started tanning before the age of 18.  Indoor tanning beds are most utilized by young women under the age of 40, with most falling in the age range of 18-30 years old.  I know there are a lot of brilliant kids out there, but the fact is most of us are not too concerned with our health at that age or the consequences of a beautiful tan, until we realize something like skin cancer could in fact affect us.  A realization that takes life experience and maturity.  Which is why I am highlighting the health risks associated with indoor tanning beds to kick off Melanoma Awareness Month this May.

Researchers estimate that indoor tanning causes upwards of 400,000 skin cancer cases per year.  The World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer panel also states that ultraviolet radiation, from both the sun and indoor tanning, is carcinogenic (known to cause cancer).  Yet indoor tanning salons are still a booming business, an annual $5 billion dollar business, in fact.  Therefore, it’s imperative that we stress education on the real risks of indoor tanning and help to curb the tanning trend prevalent in the United States today. 

The Journal of American Academy of Dermatology conducted a study determining if certain characteristics distinguished patients who developed melanoma following the use of indoor tanning beds.  In their findings they highlighted that patients who had multiple primary melanomas had a higher probability of exposure to indoor tanning beds.  Additionally, 65% of patients who were exposed to indoor tanning beds, and who had a previous melanoma, were diagnosed with a second primary melanoma within 1 year following their initial case of melanoma!  This is a significant shortening of time between melanoma cases for the patients who have had exposure to indoor tanning beds.  With the usual time between diagnosis of melanomas being 3.5 years for non-tanners, changing to an average of 225 days for tanners.  Clearly, patients who have used indoor tanning beds have an earlier diagnosis of a secondary melanoma, and therefore must be watched more closely than non-tanners.  Also bear in mind those most at risk for developing melanoma from indoor tanning beds are women under the age of 40, with light hair, and who have or are prone to freckling.  

The Myth of Moderate Tanning:

You may only visit the tanning bed a few times a year, before a beach vacation for example, but it still raises your risk of melanoma.  Period.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one single session of indoor tanning can increase your risk of developing melanoma by 20%, increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and increase basal cell carcinoma by 29%! 

Need More Convincing?

Indoor tanning has other undesirable side effects.  Increased UV exposure causes premature aging of the skin, immune suppression, and even eye damage.  Even if you get S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) in the winter months, sunlamps and tanning beds are not a good solution for increasing your vitamin D.  Healthier ways to up your vitamin D are to eat a healthy diet and take a vitamin D supplement with K2 (the K2 activates the MGP, a protein that helps direct the calcium to the desired place in your body).

It is always wise to keep a close watch on your skin and be sensitive to changes.  Annual check-ups are highly recommended – when detected early skin cancer is highly treatable.  As always, if there is ever a doubt, have it checked out…   We are happy to see you!  Skin Solutions Dermatology has eight offices throughout middle Tennessee in FranklinBrentwoodNashvilleHendersonvilleSmyrnaMt. JulietColumbia, and Pulaski.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

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Dr Pena

About The Author

Dr. Pena is a Board-Certified Medical Dermatologist, Mohs skin cancer surgeon, and cosmetic dermatologist. Her mission is to educate the diverse patient populations she serves, and their communities, on the importance of skin care in decreasing the risk of skin cancer and minimizing the early signs of aging. She founded Skin Solutions Dermatology with numerous clinics in Nashville, Tennessee and surrounding Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Julia Pena, MD

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