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Uncovering the myths surrounding indoor tanning and sun exposure


MYTH: Indoor tanning is stronger than natural sunlight.

This statement is used quite often when trying to describe the difference between output of the sun vs. sunbeds. However, the intensity of the sun is dependent on such factors as; time of day, time of year, proximity to the equator, and reflective surfaces such as sand, water, and snow. Sunlight has no standard transmission level. The sun’s intensity at 9am in Boston in January certainly differs from a noon July day on a Jamaican beach.

MYTH: Pregnant women should avoid tanning beds because the UV emission could “microwave” the fetus.

Indoor tanning beds do not emit microwaves, but (in most units) emit a mix of UVA and UVB wavelengths that can only penetrate the top millimeters of the skin to produce a cosmetic tan. These rays lack sufficient energy to penetrate any further. Pregnant should avoid sunbeds and booths, as well as Jacuzzi’s, whirlpools, saunas and other sources of heat due to the possibility of raising their body’s core temperature.

MYTH: Can a sunbed “fry” your internal organs?

This urban legend has been around for years and most versions have a young girl trying to obtain a tan before a prom or wedding by using a sunbed repeatedly in one day. It would have certainly made the mainstream media if it were true! Again, the UV rays emitted from a sunbed lack sufficient energy to penetrate past the top layers of the skin.

MYTH: Indoor tanning is the main cause of increasingly higher rates of melanoma in young women.

Heredity and moles are key factors to melanoma. While some dermatologists link sunbed exposures to melanoma, more research is needed to make the delineation between indoor (controlled) vs. lifetime outdoor (uncontrolled) exposure. Further, while dermatologists may also claim that melanoma is on the rise in women age 24-29 due to indoor tanning, note that the latency period (time it takes to develop) for skin cancer is typically 10-20 years. Women as young as 4 years old are not tanning indoors. So what’s the reason for this increase? Free skin cancer screenings are prevalent throughout the US and clearly add to the numbers. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, volunteer dermatologists have conducted more than 2 million free skin cancer screenings.  And one can only assume that the numbers will also increase with self diagnosis through new technology smart phone apps that offer melanoma diagnosis.

But these free screenings clearly help detect skin cancer early and the most common (basal and squamous cell carcinomas) can be successfully treated on an outpatient basis. Because BCC and SCC are primarily treated as outpatient, the National Cancer Institute does not add it to the statistics. Upon viewing the numbers, note that melanoma strikes more men than women and the median age over 60 years of age. The typical indoor tanner is female between the ages of 18-35. Read more at http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/skin.html

MYTH: Skin cancer is an epidemic.

In 2011, it’s estimated that 76,000 people will develop melanoma. Melanoma can be fatal and early detection is important. Fair skin, other family members having melanoma, and large and numerous moles are leading risk factors. But that number equates to about 0.00022% of our population. Read more at http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/skin.html

Other Mythical Statements: Young girls are influenced by fashion trends which push them to obtain a tan. Unfortunately our young population still wants to look tan and is not changing their behavior about getting tanned.

Young people are changing their behavior, if you believe the new studies anti tanning groups tout indicating that fewer young people want a tan. However, indoor tanners have agreed for years, in fact, that they feel better and look better with a tan, and their self esteem is higher. In actuality, women’s health and cosmetic magazines are pushing for young women to avoid both natural sunlight and sunbeds and claiming that models and movie stars are avoiding tans.

Statement: One of the main causes of skin cancer is exposure to harmful sunrays. If you thought that getting tanned at tanning salons was safer than the sun, please think again before visiting any salon again. Tanning beds and sunlamps are as dangerous as the sunrays.

We’ve have survived for thousands of years, basking in the warmth of the sun. Indoor tanning is a controlled environment to obtain a cosmetic tan where the risk of overexposure and sunburn are minimized. The key with UV exposure is moderation and responsibility. Following UV avoidance guidelines may lead to negative health implications-including obesity and other health problems.

Statement: Bulbs used in tanning salons emit UVA radiations and are responsible for both Melanoma and Non-melanoma types of cancers.

There is no conclusive evidence that the moderate browning of the skin for those that can achieve a tan without reaching erythema (sunburn) causes melanoma. Heredity, fair skin and moles are among the leading causes of melanoma.

Exposure to tanning bulbs also reduces our body’s ability to repair the damaged DNA, which is caused by UV radiation.

New research indicates that a protein called “p53” is activated in response to this damage and triggers production of alpha-MSH, a hormone that then prompts production of melanin, or pigment. The result is a photo protective tan. Once you have that tan, your DNA is better protected for the next time that you’re out in the sun, because of that melanin cover over the nucleus which is actually protecting it from UV rays that would damage the DNA inside. UV exposure and developing a tan is nature’s way to produce photo protection and avoid sunburn.

Read more at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=protein-p53-fixes-dna-damage-promotes-tanning

Statement: Indoor tanning leads to wrinkled skin. Wrinkling of the skin can be a result of smoking, drinking alcohol, stress, outside elements such as the wind and toxins in our air. Overexposure to UV can also be included. But remember, as we age, our skin does as well. Statement: There is no such thing as a safe tan. Actually, the FDA forbids the indoor tanning industry from making claims such as “safe” tanning, safer than the sun, etc. Indoor tanning provides a controlled environment to obtain a cosmetic tan in moderation and responsibility, by skin type and a timer, reducing the risk of overexposure and sunburn.

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