Skin Cancer Awareness Month – Friends Don’t Let Friends Get Tan!

It’s good to go through life, knowing what you know.  For instance, I know not to get into a conversation with my 28 year old son’s best friend about multi-paradigm computer programming language.  I know that if a pipe leaks in my house, I send somebody else to Home Depot.  But if there’s one thing I do know inside and out, something folks rely on me to keynote address at international conferences and explain on the evening news, it’s the nature of beauty.  In fact, I’m usually booked out at my practice a couple of months in advance, because people trust me to know what looks good.

So, trust me.  A tan does not look good.

Does being 74% more likely to develop skin cancer look good to you?

There is no such thing as ‘a healthy baseline tan.’  Tanning—and even more so tanning beds—is seriously scary stuff.  It seems so many of us, especially young women, schedule in a weekly trip to the tanning salon the same way we get our nails done or make time to work out at the gym.  This reminds me of the laissez faire attitude we had towards smoking and the tobacco industry in the ‘60’s (when the average person’s life span, by the way, was somewhere in their 60’s).  Today, reality TV icons walk around with their year-round tans, holding up a ‘beauty norm’ for young people to emulate—the same way the Don Draper generation viewed smoking as not only 100% socially acceptable, but also chic. Even though we’ve understood the link between UV radiation and skin cancer for some decades now, people not only tan like they did in the ‘80’s—they are tanning more. This way of thinking has got to change.  It’s a matter of life and death, and here are a few statistics I hope will drive this point home:

  • The indoor tanning industry has an annual estimated revenue of $5 billion.
  • On an average day, more than one million Americans use tanning salons.
  • Ultraviolet Radiation is a proven human carcinogen. However, the FDA currently classifies UV tanning beds as Class I medical devices, the same designation given elastic bandages and tongue depressors.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, classifies ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1—its list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. The Group 1 list also includes cigarettes, plutonium, and solar UV radiation.
  • Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.
  • Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.43
  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.44
  • Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. every year39; 2.3 million of them are teens.
  • Seventy-one percent of tanning salon patrons are females between the ages of 16-29.
  • Skin cancer among women, especially young women and teens (age 16 – 29), is on the rise.  And rising 3.2% per year (as opposed to 2.6% annually for men).
  • If caught early, melanoma has a 99% survival rate.  If caught after it has penetrated the surface layer of the skin, the survival rate drops to 15%.  Detection and treatment of melanoma is delayed in 40 percent of melanoma cases occurring in teens.

The message we have to get out there for skin cancer awareness month is clear and simple: friends do not let friends get tan.  The same way you’d call a taxi for a tipsy girlfriend sliding behind the wheel of her convertible, toss her a bottle of self-tanner when she’s trying to hit the salon.

In honor of skin cancer awareness month, here’s a general checklist to reduce your skin cancer risk:

  • Never, ever set foot in a tanning bed.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply two coats of the product to uncovered skin 30 minutes before going outside, and apply again every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Avoid outdoor activities during the middle of the day. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When you must be outdoors, seek shade when you can.
  • Protect yourself from the sun’s rays reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The sun’s rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants if possible. Tightly woven fabrics are best.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim (five inches is preferable) all around that shades your face, neck, and ears.
  • Wear UV protective sunglasses.
  • Get regular skin checks with your dermatologist—at least once per year, and more often if you have any history of irregularities.  Check yourself regularly as well, as see your doctor as soon as possible if you see changes to moles that reflect any of the ABCDEs: asymmetry, a border that is blurred or irregular, colors that are varied within the same mole, a diameter of more than a pencil eraser, and elevation or evolution — signs that the mole is raised or is changing shape.

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