Despite the abundance of information available about the dangers of excessive sun exposure and the importance of skin protection, the indoor tanning industry is a $5 Billion industry in the United States. A new survey has also revealed many people don’t have a clear understanding of what constitutes “healthy” sun exposure.
Sun myths persist
The risk of skin cancer is high- with 1 in 5 Americans being diagnosed at some point in their life. It is the most common kind of cancer, yet is highly preventable. Earlier this year, the American Academy of Dermatology shared a survey of American adults which revealed that many common myths surrounding sun exposure are still widely embraced:
- 22% believe a base tan will prevent sunburns.
- 20% believe tanning is safe as long as you do not burn.
- 18% believe a base tan decreases the risk of skin cancer.
- 13% believe tanning is healthy.
Some have turned to indoor tanning beds as an alternative, often due to misleading marketing despite efforts made by the Federal Trade Commission to squash tanning industry maneuvers. Using a tanning bed results in damage to the skin, just as natural sunlight. Some studies have revealed that tanning beds produce 12 times more UVA light than the sun.
Any tan is a manifestation of sun damage, and UV damage begins immediately after exposure. Base tans do not prevent cancer or burns. This holds true for UV exposure from the sun or from artificial sources. This is why sun protection must be used at all times.
Is there a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic?
Any ultraviolet light, whether natural or from an artificial source, is harmful to the skin. Many people believe that year-round exposure to sun, tanning beds, or sun lamps benefits their health. Vitamin D supports your muscles, nerves, bones, teeth, and immune system. But for most, incidental sun exposure to the face and hands, as well as through certain foods, fulfills their body’s need. Eggs, fatty fish, and fortified foods like milk and cereal are some sources of Vitamin D. When necessary, over the counter supplements can easily correct deficiencies without any risk to your health.
The tanning industry has faced a growing number of lawsuits and accusations of misleading marketing surrounding their claims of “safer” tanning, and some even going as far as saying that using tanning beds can prevent cancer. On the contrary- one of the bigger studies from University of Minnesota showed that people who tan indoors have a much, much higher risk of melanoma than those who never tan- a 74 percent greater risk. The study also established that the more time you spend in a tanning bed, the more likely you are to develop melanoma.
Those involved in the tanning industry have proliferated a war against the American Cancer Society and medical providers who share about the danger of using tanning beds (in addition to warning about the risks of excessive sun exposure). Their angle? That there is an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency, and medical providers and organizations that work to keep people away from tanning beds are “killing more people than tobacco did” by doing so. Tanning industry representatives assert that medical providers and the American Cancer Society receive donations from sunscreen companies for their stance against tanning and the need for sunscreen, and that medical providers profit from participating in the “Sun Scare” industry.
None of their theories are founded in truth, and yet their website, made to look like a non-profit organization that shares about the benefits of Vitamin D, guides people into using tanning beds, a supposedly “safer” way to get Vitamin D. Sources have time and time again revealed that this “Vitamin D Foundation” is backed by those in the artificial tanning industry. Tanning salons are so common that they outnumber McDonald’s in some areas, but the reach of the industry goes further, with many tanning beds available in gyms, spas, salons, and hotels.
Dr. Lisa Chipps, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon who practices in Beverly Hills, Torrance and Encino, California shares:
Tanning beds are not safer than lying out in the sun. In fact, people who have ever used a tanning bed have a 67 percent increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 29 percent increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Melanoma is very prevalent in women in their early 20s, and a lot of that is attributed to tanning bed use. That’s one of the reasons many states have restricted their use for minors.Lisa Chipps, MD, is on the faculty at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and on staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
If you’re really after that glowing, sun-kissed look, sunless tanners like lotions or sprays are the only safe option. The products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which reacts with amino acids on the outermost top layer of the skin to produce a tan color. Many now also contain SPF, helping people achieve the look they want while also providing skin protection.
Information about sun exposure and skin cancer risk isn’t meant to scare people into hiding indoors and never enjoying a beautiful day. For those that live in areas where sunshine is limited, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression that is related to the seasons, is nothing to ignore. But, there are treatments that limit exposure to harmful UV light and still help people cope with the symptoms.
How we approach outdoor time makes a difference, too. Using a broad spectrum sunscreen, clothing that provides UPF protection, wearing a hat, seeking shade, and going out when it’s not peak sun intensity are all ways to enjoy the outdoors and limit the risk (and don’t forget to hydrate!). Read more about the ABC(DEs) of skin cancer symptoms to better understand the early signs. Get a yearly skin check with a dermatologist to evaluate any spots or changes to your skin. If you are at higher risk of developing skin cancer (family history, fair skin, organ transplant, red hair, recent burns and more), consider going more than once a year to keep track of any changes.