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Tanning Beds: Just Say No

Melanoma Starts at Ages 10-19

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the American Cancer Society (ACS):
Melanoma now ranks as the most common cancer among people ages 25 to 29.
• Each year, more than 1 million people, many of them teenagers, visit tanning salons.
• During the past two decades, melanoma rates rose 60.5 percent in women and 26.7 percent in men.
• Melanoma is linked to excessive sun exposure in the first 10 to 19 years of life, a period during which almost 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs.


Here’s a chance to set a great example for your kids while protecting your own skin as well: Just say no to tanning beds.

The recent increased use of tanning beds by teenagers has contributed to a sharp rise in melanoma rates in young people, says dermatologist Joshua Fox, MD. The short-term bronzing effects from tanning beds are simply not worth the possible long-term consequences of increased skin cancer risk and premature aging.

“Particularly during the teenage years, continued use of a tanning bed or sun lamp can be quite dangerous,” Dr. Fox says. “It can increase your risk of developing malignant melanoma by more than 55 percent, and it can about double your chances of basal cell and/or squamous-cell cancer.”

Not Just Vanity

A study of tanning bed users published in the Journal of the American Aca-demy of Dermatology, found evidence that the UV in tanning beds may stimulate the brain to produce endorphins.

These “feel-good” hormones are released during positive activities such as exercise, but also during negative behaviors such as drug use or cigarette smoking.

“The relaxing and reinforcing effects of UV exposure contribute to tanning behavior in frequent tanners, and should be explored in greater detail,” the study’s authors conclude.

“The reason teens are so at risk is that they are still experiencing such tremendous growth at the cellular level,” Dr. Fox explains. “Their skin cells, like every other cell in their bodies, are dividing more rapidly than they do when we reach adulthood. And the more rapidly cells change, the higher the chances are that they will change detrimentally — particularly when hit by the deleterious effects of the sun — and cancer will develop.”

For adults who are already concerned with the aging effects of skin damage from the sun, the evidence is clear, according to the AAD and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can also have a damaging effect on the immune system and cause premature aging of the skin, giving it a wrinkled, leathery appearance.

And contrary to what some people assume, not all skin cancers are easily curable. Malignant melanoma, which has a suspected link to UV exposure, is often fatal if not detected early.

Health agencies encourage parents of teens to review the dangers of tanning beds with their children, and to prohibit their use. And remember to set an example by taking good care of your own skin. There are many safe, FDA-approved self-tanning creams, gels and sprays that can give the appearance of a natural tan without the possibly devastating side effects of tanning beds or too much sun. 

Risks of Excess UV Exposure

According to the Cleveland Clinic Department of Dermatology, excess exposure to the sun or the use of a tanning bed can cause:
• Pre-cancerous (actinic keratosis) and cancerous (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) skin lesions
• Benign tumors
• Fine and coarse wrinkles
• Freckles
• Discolored areas of the skin, called mottled pigmentation
• Sallowness, a yellow discoloration of the skin
• Telangiectasias, the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin
• Elastosis, the destruction of the elastic tissue causing lines and wrinkles

Kathy Sena is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to MetroKids.

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