By Dr. Renata Prado
Board certified dermatologist & fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon
You have a big occasion coming up: prom, graduation, wedding. You think you will look a lot better with a glowing tan, and sign up for indoor tanning. I am here to tell you why this is a very bad idea.
I can start by saying that you are beautiful just the way you are – which is true – but as a dermatologist, maybe I should also add some facts.
First, there is no safe tanning. And it doesn’t matter whether you get ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from artificial sources such as sun lamps and tanning beds. Any tanning involves the exposure of your skin to the ultraviolet radiation, a known human carcinogenic. In fact, ultraviolet radiation is classified as Group 1 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), together with tobacco smoke, arsenic, asbestos, mustard gas and plutonium. To give you an idea of the power of UV radiation as a carcinogen: more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
Second, take a look at the numbers: more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas and 6,200 melanomas.
Yes, the vast majority of these cancers are treatable and curable, especially if caught early. However, many times it means requiring surgery which will result in a scar. Unfortunately, sometimes indoor tanning is linked to a deadly form of skin cancer. Just one indoor tanning session before the age of 35 increases a person’s risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent.
Here are common questions my patients ask me about tanning:
How about getting a base tan to prevent sunburn before a trip to the beach?
A base tan will give you a “natural SPF” of about 4, if that much. However, that is at a cost of cellular injury. If you have a base tan, you can still burn. Every time you tan or burn, you also damage the DNA in your skin. The more you damage your DNA, the greater your risk of getting skin cancer.
Can I get addicted to tanning?
Becoming addicted to tanning is a real risk. About 20% of 18- to 30-year-old white women who use indoor tanning show signs of addiction. They find it hard to stop tanning, and experience symptoms of withdrawal when they don’t get a steady dose of UV rays.
Does tanning really cause aging?
An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun. Therefore, sun tanning, being something known to induce aging of the skin and skin cancers, really does not make sense.
What is a better way to keep my skin healthy and young?
Appropriate sun protection is key to keep your skin healthy and younger looking.
- Limit your UV exposure. Don’t use tanning beds and avoid the sun during peak hours of 10AM to 2PM. Both sunburns and accumulated sun exposure over time can cause skin aging and skin cancer.
- Use sunscreen daily. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30. Make it a daily habit to put on your sunscreen each morning to all exposed areas.
- Cover up. If you must be outdoors, covering up is the best protection. Wear a hat and clothing that has UV properties to protect your skin.
What if I just must look tanned?
Well, if you must, a self-tanner offers you a safe way to look tan without increasing your risk of developing early wrinkles, leathery skin, and skin cancer. Keep in mind that when you use a self-tanner, it’s important to wear sunscreen. A self-tanner cannot protect your skin from the sun.
As a dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, I have many patients who wish they could turn back the clock and NOT get into a tanning bed or NOT get that summer tan. So think twice the next time you’re considering a tan. Your skin will thank you for it.
Dr. Renata Prado is a board certified Colorado Springs dermatologist. She is fellowship trained in Mohs Micrographic Surgery and specializes in skin cancer surgery. Dr. Prado is part of Vanguard’s Colorado Springs dermatology practice in Briargate and Broadmoor.
Vanguard Skin Specialists began as a Colorado Springs dermatology practice and now has additional office in Canon City, Pueblo, and Woodland Park. Vanguard specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, and also offers general dermatology, plastic surgery, and aesthetic medicine.