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The Risks We Take For Bronzed Skin

Ninety-two percent of people understand that getting a tan is dangerous. Yet two-thirds think they look better with a tan.

One month ago I had a 26-year-old patient with an eight-inch incision from her hip to her navel. She explained it was from a melanoma. Her oncology team told her it was probably from tanning bed use and that melanoma may come back as cancer in other places of her body. According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common metastasis sites for melanoma are the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and brain.

My patient voiced regret, and now hopes to spread the word to the more than 30 million Americans who use tanning salons yearly.

I understand: it has been a long, cold, snowy winter which has slowly turned into a cool and rainy spring.  New Englanders are desperate to take out the shorts, cook on the grill, and bronze the pasty-pale skin. Proms, graduation and weddings are upon us and many want a tan for the big event. Unfortunately, the long-term damage done to the DNA of the skin under indoor tanning lamps far exceeds the short-lived feeling of warmth and a sun-kissed "glow."

I spoke to Dr. Louis Kuchnir of Kuchnir Dermatology in Milford, who is president of the Massachusetts Academy of Dermatology. “Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the leading cancer fatality under 25-years-old," he said. Due to the known UV skin risks, Kuchnir led the academy movement to change the minimum tanning bed age to 15 (it is currently set at 13). The 38-person academy voted unanimously to ban indoor tanning for people under 15-years-old and to require 15- to 18 year-olds to have an adult with them during a session.

Kuchnir debunked the concerns of low vitamin D from lack of UV light, stating “More than likely there are absorption/pathway conditions to create the deficiency. There are many wrinkly, tan women in Florida with osteoporosis."

After speaking to Dr. Kuchnir, I found a shocking statistic by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion who polled more than 1,000 people, finding only one-fifth of the Americans polled use sunscreen. Thirty-Three percent of those polled only use sunscreen for a few days during the summer season and only nine percent use it daily.

According to the Melanoma Foundation of New England, using tanning beds just once a month increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent.  In March 2010, an FDA panel reviewed scientific evidence of 19 studies conducted by a World Health Organization (WHO) group. They found that tanning indoors just once increased a person's risk of melanoma by 15 percent. For people who started tanning at age 35 or younger, the risk rose to 75 percent. The WHO group later labeled tanning devices “carcinogenic." A year later, in February, 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a plea to restrict minors from U.S. tanning salons.

Milford offers at least 10 places you can "fake and bake."  Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the main regulating committe, Milford Health Inspector Steven M. Garabedian said the local tanning centers must apply for a yearly permit and post signs that list the potential risks of UV radiation.

As Garabedian explained, Milford is stricter with age regulations, excluding indoor tanning for people under 16-years-old and even teens 16-18 years old must have a parent’s consent. I put a call into and they told me their age requirement is 18-years-old. However a client can tan “no more than every 24 hours."  Yikes!

The was this past weekend. There were signs about all types of cancer surrounding the field, including three about skin cancer. I hope this article can empower you to make an educated decision on whether the healthy glow is worth the woe.

Skin Protection:

  • If you have used tanning beds, burn easily or have more than 50 moles; get regular body scans from one of the Milford dermatologists
  • Try self tanners, “mist” tanners or makeup bronzers
  • Apply SPF 15-30 at least 20 minutes before sunlight (don't forget the ears)
  • Where a hat, light shirt, and sunglasses
Michelle Garber May 22, 2011 at 11:20 AM
Thanks for posting this Lisa, especially with Prom season upon us. I know when I was a kid I rarely used sunscreen, but I am vigilant now. My kids grew up with it, so it is just part of the routine!! I think we do feel better when we have a little color but I choose to get mine from a bottle. Self-tanners have come so far and if you buy a decent brand and use them as the directions say, you shouldn't look like on orange!! Have a great Sunday!
Michelle Garber May 22, 2011 at 12:15 PM
Just stumbled upon this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4jgUcxMezM
celine Lorenzati-Brochard May 22, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Thank You Lisa!
Lisa Vasile May 22, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Wow~ Michelle - such a great video. Thanks so much for posting!

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