Should you ban the tan?

If you do plan on tanning, wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Apply in liberal amounts for maximum effectiveness, and re-apply every 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When it comes to sun exposure, there’s no such thing as a “healthy tan.”

Tanning and sunburn are your body’s physical response to DNA damage caused by exposure to ultraviolet light (UV). And damaged DNA can lead to skin cancer, including deadly melanoma.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Each year, more than 5.5 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer, nonmelanoma and melanoma. Melanoma skin cancer is the more dangerous type of skin cancer and is deadly if not found and treated early. The majority of both types of skin cancer cases, between 86 and 90 percent, are caused by exposure to UV rays. 

But it’s not just the sun. ​Tanning beds are a huge risk factor for skin cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year are linked to indoor tanning. They also report that more people develop skin cancer from indoor tanning than people develop lung cancer from smoking. With regard to melanoma, even one time use increases your risk, and if you use tanning beds before you are 30, your risk increases by 75 percent.

Facts to consider before seeking a tan:

• The effects of tanning, whether from the sun or from a tanning bed, are cumulative. The more you tan, the greater your risk.

• Tanning beds are not safer than the sun. Tanning beds use the same type of UV rays (UVA) that come from the sun, and the rays are more intense.

• Base tans do not protect against sunburn. Many people leaving for a tropical vacation, visit an indoor tanning facility in the quest for a protective base tan. The problem is, this base tan does little to protect your skin. You’re better off skipping the tanning bed and using a sunscreen of a SPF of 30 or higher on your trip.

• Tanning beds do not help boost vitamin D. Some people use tanning beds in the mistaken belief that it helps increase vitamin D production. But tanning beds use UVA rays, which have no effect on vitamin D. You need UVB rays from the sun to get any vitamin D production, but the risks outweigh the benefit. You’re better off using a vitamin D supplement.

Tips to reduce your risk of skin cancer:

• Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

• Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Reapply every 1 ½ to 2 hours when out in the sun.

• Wear sun protective clothing.

• Wear sunglasses.

• Avoid indoor tanning.

• If you really crave that healthy glow, consider spray tan or a topical tanning solution. 

To learn more, visit allinahealth.org/sunsafety.

This article originally ran as a blog post in Allina Health’s Healthy Set Go blog. Read more stories like this at allinahealth.org/healthysetgo


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