Some of us remember when having a good tan was not only attractive, but a sign of robust good health. Now, we know differently.
If you’ve ever had a skin cancer removed, or knew someone who died because of skin cancer, you already know what we’re about to tell you.
A tan isn’t a sign of healthy skin, but damaged skin — particularly when you get it indoors in a tanning bed.
That’s why in Maryland, beginning Oct. 1, it will be illegal for tanning facilities to let anyone under the age of 18 use any of their tanning devices. (See: “No more indoor tanning for teens,” July 6 Times-News, Page 7C.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that if no one younger than 18 ever used a tanning bed, 61,839 melanomas and 6,735 deaths due to melanoma would be prevented annually.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that only one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer, and that using tanning beds before age 35 can increase the risk of melanoma by 59%.
Nearly 70% of tanning salon patrons are white girls and young women, and melanoma is the second most common cancer in females age 15 through 29. About 15% of white females age 18-30 engage in frequent indoor tanning.
Researchers estimate that indoor tanning may cause more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year. The estimated cost of treating skin cancers attributable to indoor tanning is $343.1 million a year.
People who spend too much time in the sun or a tanning bed tend to suffer from premature skin aging, or worse.
Several years ago, Patricia Krentcil of Newark, New Jersey, was charged with child endangerment for allegedly taking her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning salon so she could get a tan.
New Jersey law prohibited children under the age of 14 from using a tanning booth.
When a school nurse asked the daughter about her sunburn, she apparently said she had gone tanning with her mother.
Krentcil said the child hadn’t been exposed to the tanning rays and was sunburned while playing outside. She was later exonerated.
Published reports said Krentcil’s leathery appearance led to speculation that she was “tanorexic,” a dependence on sunbathing or using tanning beds.
She went on the wagon (so to speak) without tanning for a month to prove that she was not and said the experience made her feel “weird and pale.”
Just staying out of the tanning booth won’t keep you safe. Unless you’re a vampire and can safely be out only at night, your work, travels, recreation and other activities will eventually bring you out into the light of day.
If you’re going to be out for any length of time, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest, you should use a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating of at least 30 and reapply it at least every two hours. Do it more often if you’ve been sweating or swimming.
Put it on the tops of your ears, the back of your neck and the tops of your feet — places you might not think of, but any place that will be exposed to the sun.
Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays and a hat of some kind and find some shade now and then. Drink plenty of water.
People who have blond or red hair, light-colored skin and light-colored eyes can be sunburned more quickly than people who have darker skin and eyes.
African-Americans and other people of color can be even more susceptible to sunburning and skin cancer because they aren’t looking for the warning signs. They may believe the increased melatonin levels that darken their skin may protect them from sun damage, but that only goes so far.
Sunscreens that are better suited to different skin types and color are available. People who have very dark skin can use a sunscreen with a low SPF. People with very fair skin should use sunscreen with a higher SPF.
A sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 is designed to protect the wearer from all but 1/30 of the sun’s damaging rays — 97%. An SPF of 50 protects from all but 1/50 of them — 98%.
This new law forbidding use of tanning facilities by people under the age of 18 is a good law.
It’s about like telling them they can’t smoke.