Tanning Bed vs Sun Exposure | Skin Cancer Risks Explained

Salon Tanning Risks

Always weight the risks vs. benefits in the quest for perfection

Well they've gone and done it again. By they, I mean the government and the medical community. They've found another way to put fear and doubt into our minds about the safety of tanning in tanning salons after we've all been told for years that they were a safe and effective way to get a nice tan without fear of burning or risk of skin cancer. In a recent article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, however, co-author Dr. Rex Ammonette, president of the Academy, said he and colleague James Spencer had found no health value in tanning salons. "Although a link between salon use and skin cancer has not yet been proved," says Ammonette, "the evidence is strong enough to be believable." Amonette and Spencer believe any exposure to ultraviolet light, even in a salon, greatly raises the risk of skin cancer. "A tan, whether acquired in a salon or in the sun, is evidence of harm to the skin," Ammonette says. "It indicates that the DNA in cells is already damaged."

Short-term damage indicative of skin-burning includes redness, dryness, peeling, pain, blisters and itching. Long-term damage, besides cancer, can include premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkling or age spots. "Tanning in a salon doesn't avoid this" Ammonette says. "The time spent under the ultraviolet light is typically shorter in a salon, but the intensity of the light is greater Although the dosage is more readily controlled in a tanning salon, the ultraviolet light components can change based on such factors as whether a new light has been installed."

Whether tanning in a salon or in the sun, try to reduce exposure to ultraviolet rays when they're the strongest. This means tanning in the sun only in the morning or late afternoon. When using a bed, keep the tubes a little distance away from your body, not just an inch or so away. Restrict tanning in beds to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Remember when out in the sun that you are more likely to burn at higher altitudes because of the thinner, less sun-filtered air. For every 1000 feet in altitude, ultraviolet radiation increases about 5 percent. You also burn faster near water or snow - as a result of the reflection of up to 85 percent of sunlight onto the skin - or near the equator. Always wear sunscreen and a hat even on cloudy days because, although clouds scatter sunlight so that you don't feel as much heat, you can still burn when the sky is overcast.

Keep in mind when tanning that certain chemicals and drugs, including antibiotics like tetracycline, tranquilizers, anti-fungal medications, oral contraceptives (birth control pills), diuretics, drugs for diabetes, and even certain soaps, cosmetics and PABA-containing sunscreens, make your skin more photosensitive or sun-sensitive. This means that your skin will burn much faster than normal when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or a tanning bed. If you're taking any kind of medication, whether over-the-counter or prescription, always ask your doctor or pharmacist about possible photo sensitivity reactions.

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