By Vilma Cokkinides, PhD
As summer approaches, we get a lot of reminders to protect our skin from the sun with sunscreen, shade, hats, and long sleeves. What doesn't get mentioned as often is indoor tanning.
Indoor tanning has become popular among young adult women and teenage girls. One chief motivation is that they believe they look more attractive and healthy with a tan. Many teens and their parents think getting a tan indoors is safer than tanning in the sun. But the truth is that tanning booths, lamps, or sunbeds emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, just as the sun does. And exposure to UV radiation - whether from the sun or from a man-made source -- can raise your risk of skin cancer.
UV radiation also causes structural damage to the skin that can result in what dermatologists call "photoageing." You and I would call it premature wrinkles, freckles, leathery texture, and loss of elasticity.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. This year alone there will be more than 2 million people diagnosed with squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas and 70,230 cases of melanoma. What is particularly concerning is the fact that the incidence rate for melanoma has been increasing for the last 30 years, likely linked to an increase of UV exposure from the sun and the use of indoor tanning devices.
The trends are so alarming that many state governments have begun to take action to regulate the indoor tanning industry; 26 states have enacted legislation limiting a minor's access to indoor tanning facilities, including restricting access by age or requiring parental permission.
So what are you supposed to do if you want to look tan but don't want the extremely harmful effects of UV rays? Consider a spray tan or a self-tanning lotion. These cosmetic products stain the skin for a short time and are not thought to be harmful when used properly. Stay away, though, from tanning pills and accelerators, which are not FDA-approved and could cause liver or skin problems.
And even if you aren't a fan of tanning, be sure to learn about how to reduce your risk for skin cancer or spot it early.
Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, is the strategic director of risk factor surveillance for the American Cancer Society.