Here in Texas, we are alternating hot days of wearing shorts with chilly days or grabbing jackets, which means it’s nearly time for SPRING BREAK- hooray! Many students and their families head to the beach for spring break, and before the women don their bikinis, the quest for a “base tan” to avoid a sunburn begins. I have had many patients ask my advice on what is better- going to a tanning booth or braving the capricious weather outside. My answer? NEITHER.
The entire notion of a “base tan” has no scientific basis, nor support from dermatologists. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AADA) testified last year at FDA hearings about the risks of indoor tanning. These devices have shared the same low risk category as bandaids and tongue depressors, yet we have had medical evidence for years that they clearly cause skin cancers.
Melanoma rates are increasing across the board, and melanoma is now the number one cancer in young people aged 25-29, and the second most common cancer in 15-29 year olds. Use of a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by a whopping 75%! I can personally attest in my own practice that I have diagnosed multiple cases of melanoma in the last couple years, primarily in people younger than I am- which really hits home. (I’m 47.) Having lost a friend to melanoma many years ago, I am very aware that skin cancers are not simply cosmetic nuisances.
Please be aware that tanning beds are not “safe”, and they target young people (especially women) with their ads. Many tanning salons promote their “safe” or “harmless” type of UV radiation, but the UVA rays cause damage in the same fashion as UVB rays- only a bit more slowly and more deeply. Any change in skin color is a sign of damage from UV radiation. Period.
The American Academy of Dermatology hopes the FDA will ban indoor tanning devices all together, but at the least, should require a minimum age of 18 for ANY indoor tanning and should mandate obtaining informed consent from clients AFTER educating them about the real risks of skin cancer. The AADA also strongly recommends changing the risk category of these machines to match the health risks they create.
BOTTOM LINE: TANNING is NOT SAFE and “base tans” don’t help! Use sunscreen, wear protective clothing and stay away from tanning beds all together.