Don’t ‘Diss’ the Damage; Why the Dangers of Tanning Should Not Be Ignored

August 1, 2019Dr. Karen Dong

For many tweens, teens, and adults alike, tanning is a huge perk of summer. Even tanning beds and other alternatives are used when the sun is in hiding. However, what many of us don’t consider on a day-to-day basis, is that our skin’s beautiful glow is actually a serious sign of damage.

When the skin is directly exposed to the sun, it absorbs energy from two types of ultraviolet rays: UV-A and UV-B. UV-B rays, the more harmful of the two, are directly linked to damaging our DNA, causing sunburn, and speeding up the development of skin cancers, particularly melanoma, says Dr. Karen Dong. While UV-A rays also increase the risk for skin cancers, they play a greater role in premature aging and other skin impurities.

“Some people prefer tanning beds, because they believe the use of UV-A rays is a safer method, however, scientists and medical professionals disagree,” explained Dr. Dong, of Voorhees Primary & Specialty Care. “Absorption of UV rays should be limited. If you know you are going to be outdoors on a summer day, check the UV index, so you know how much protection is needed.”

It doesn’t take years of UV exposure for your skin cancer risk to become concerning; the risk increases every time you tan. If you use tanning beds in conjunction with laying out in the sun, your risk is much more heightened.

“Studies show that young adults who tan regularly are doubling their risk for melanoma,” continued Dr. Dong. “The Mayo Clinic also states that since 2000, there has been an 8-fold increase in the rate of melanoma among women in their 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, college-aged adults are being diagnosed and treated for cancer because of this excessive exposure.”

In addition to melanoma, other skin cancers can arise, such as basal cell cancer and squamous cell carcinoma. Like all cancers, a history of smoking can exacerbate this risk. Other risk factors include a family history of melanoma, fair skin and blonde or red hair, sun-damaged skin, and a history of severe sunburns.

“Many patients ask if there is a safe way to tan, and the answer is yes, just not from UV rays,” explained Dr. Dong. “Most dermatologists recommend self-tanning products, such as lotions or mists, as they essentially temporarily color your skin and can be washed off.”

While a slight change in skin pigmentation over the summer is more or less unavoidable, it’s important to realize that a more extreme “natural” tan is never healthy.

You may develop a tan through sunscreen (at a much slower rate), while protecting your skin from most UV rays, however, it’s still dangerous to try and soak up the sun simply for appearances.

“To play it safe, you shouldn’t spend more than 10 minutes outdoors in the summertime without wearing sunscreen – SPF should at least be between 15 and 30,” said Dr. Dong. “It’s safer to use mineral sunscreens, instead of chemical; they are just as readily available in the stores. I also suggest avoiding clear sprays, as they aren’t nearly as effective as lotions.”

“Clothing too is a very helpful, physical barrier between you and the sun. This is especially important for infants and toddlers,” continued Dr. Dong. “It’s encouraging to see that a new generation of parents are treating sun exposure more seriously!”

If you have a history of tanning, whether it’s outside or inside, and are concerned about your health, speak to your doctor about getting a skin exam. The golden glow of a suntan is not worth the risks of skin cancer.

To learn more about Primary Care services at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE, or schedule an appointment by calling 1-844-542-2273.