By: Carolyn Mish, Contributing Writer
With summer just around the corner, many young adults are striving to look their best in preparation for the warm months. This can include tanning; while having a tan may be appealing to some, the long-term damage associated with tanning in the sun outweighs the benefits for many. Some people turn to tanning beds; devices that produce artificial light and give you a tan. Tanning beds have been marketed as a safer alternative to tanning in the sun, but are they really any less harmful than natural rays?
The risk associated with suntanning is due to the damage that UVA and UVB light rays cause. In the sun, your skin is exposed to UV radiation and this damages the epidermis’ cells, the surface layer of your skin. Sunburn happens when these cells are damaged and your body sends more blood to the affected area to help it heal. White blood cells, which also help your body heal from infections, are the cause of itchy and peeling sensations.
As for suntans, these are the result of your body trying to protect itself from sun damage. The body sends melanin to the surface of your skin, resulting in a darkened skin tone after the sun exposure takes place. Melanin naturally protects your skin from the sun by blocking out the light, making it your body’s first defense mechanism to sun exposure. Tanning beds in particular are very harmful because of the type of light they emit: UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, resulting in a more strong tan but they increase your risk of skin cancer even more so.
How does sun exposure increase your risk of skin cancer? It happens in multiple ways. Your risk for skin cancer increases with every bad sunburn and tan you get according to the CDC. This happens because over time, the damage to your skin cells can prevent the DNA in them from adequately preventing cancer cells from growing. The statistics about tanning beds back this up: Using tanning beds before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 59%, and this number rises with each use according to the Cleveland Clinic. Melanoma is the most aggressive of all skin cancers, and tanning beds put you at risk for it. Your risk for melanoma can rise as much as 15% with every four tanning bed visits. To catch melanoma early, follow the ABCDE’s when evaluating moles: A is for asymmetry, B is for borders (abnormal shape/strange borders) C is for color (two or more colors, different from other moles on your body) D is for diameter (moles bigger than a pencil eraser should be evaluated by a dermatologist) and E is for evolution; if the mole has changed recently head to a healthcare provider to get it checked out.
How do you get a summer glow without putting yourself at risk? Make sure to use SPF of 30 or higher when you’re exposed to the sun, and reapply as directed by the packaging. Sunless tanning products like self-tanner and sunless tanning lotion are great options that remove the factor of the sun entirely. This includes spray-tans, too! Overall, make sure that your decisions regarding the sun are informed; understanding what you’re getting yourself into is vital to healthy decision making in all aspects of life. Knowing how tanning beds work and potentially harm is an important aspect of your decision to use them.
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