In a few months, prom season will be upon us. Unfortunately, along with it comes a heightened interest on the part of young girls to have “color” for the big event. And by “color” they mean tanned skin. Some of the more aware teens might opt for the much safer spray-on version, but not nearly enough of them. The fact of the matter is: Indoor tanning leads to skin cancer and, unfortunately, a startling 40% of teenage girls in this country do it. In a report issued by the National Institutes of Health in 2014, and estimated 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year is caused by indoor tanning beds. Of these, 6,000 are melanoma, the deadliest form. Those that choose the risky option of indoor tanning might resort the following arguments in favor of it:
It’s a Good Source of Vitamin D
False. While the body can make vitamin D from ultraviolet (UV) light, it is difficult to quantify how much it actually makes, and dermatologists advise against risking exposure to these harmful rays. Vitamin D is necessary for bone and general health, but it is much more accurate and safe to get the vitamin from food and supplements. The Institute of Health recommends:
• 600 IU per day for adults up to age 69 yrs.
• 800 IU per day for adults over age 70 yrs.
Since 1930, most cow’s milk in the U.S. has been fortified with vitamin D to the tune of 100 IU per cup, and many food companies are adding it to other food that contain calcium (which vitamin D helps the body to absorb) such as yogurt and cereal.
I Don’t Burn Easily
It doesn’t matter. A common misconception is that certain complexions are not at risk for skin cancer. No one is immune, including people with extremely dark skin, and tanning beds only compound the risk. I trained in a hospital in Boston with an elegant African American surgeon who passed away from metastatic melanoma. In 2009, a panel of experts found that the use of tanning beds before age 30 was linked with a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma, and a 2012 study found a 15% increase in risk of certain skin cancers with every four sessions in a tanning bed before age 35. Numbers like these don’t leave much margin for error.
It’s Safer than a Sun Burn
False. While there is a clear link between sun burn and an increased risk of skin cancer, there is new data suggesting an even higher risk linked to indoor tanning. The simple truth is this: There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. Most dermatologists agree that a tan is nothing more than a sign of skin damage and tanning salons that advertise otherwise are misguiding their customers.
I remember spotting a tanning salon (positioned, oddly enough, between a pharmacy and a cosmetic dermatologist’s storefronts). I was shocked and disgusted to see a poster on the front window with the heading, “Why Tanning is Good for you”. This sort of false information could explain data collected by the federal government (since 2009) which shows that more than half of high school students who used tanning beds used them at least 10 times per year. According to AIM at Melanoma, an advocacy and research group based in California, more than 40 states now have some sort of restriction on the use of tanning beds by minors.
The FDA requires warning labels to be posted on tanning beds as a reminder of its dangers. But this hardly seems sufficient when the risks are so high. There is absolutely no reason to go to a tanning salon, and any argument to the contrary is simply false. Save your money. It could very possibly save your life.