By Polly Keary, Editor
Bathing suit season is here.
If you won’t get into a bathing suit until you have a decent tan, a spray tan may be your best bet.
Tanning beds are no less damaging to your skin than is natural sunlight-and may even be worse, according to Everett dermatologist Mark Valentine.
Although people tend to be less likely to burn in tanning beds because of the shortened exposure to light, the light is no less harmful, he said.
“Whether tanning beds are less likely to cause skin cancer than the sun is immaterial, since there is now ample evidence that tanning beds do cause melanoma and non-melanoma cancers,” he said.
“The only ones who remain unconvinced of this fact are those in the tanning bed industry,” he went on. “We should remember how many decades it took after tobacco companies discovered that smoking causes lung cancer before they were ready to admit it in public.”
And even if it were the case that beds were slightly less prone to causing cancer than sunlight, the difference would be outweighed by the heavy use that some people make of the tanning beds, Valentine added.
The truth is that, regardless of whether tanning in the sun or in a bed, the thing that darkens the skin is UV radiation, and UV radiation is known to cause cancer. Tanning beds typically emit three times the UVA radiation that is encountered in natural sunlight.
“The tanning process is triggered by DNA damage caused by the UV light, and this same damage is responsible for mutations and cancer production,” said Valentine. “Until that happy day that someone learns how to bypass this necessary step, tanning is always going to be associated with damage to the skin. That damage accumulates over your lifetime, and the undesirable effects may take decades to appear.”
A 2002 study by the National Cancer Institute found that tanning bed light was associated with a 50 percent increase in the risk of basal cell carcinoma and a 100 percent increase in the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
And a 2007 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer did a meta-analysis of 19 other studies and found that people who started tanning indoors by the age of 35 had a 75 percent greater risk of melanoma.
It is true that a tan developed indoors can create a base tan that protects the skin out-of-doors, but the effect is rather slight, comparable to an SPF 4 sunscreen, according the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. And though indoor tanning can stimulate Vitamin D production, doctors say that a supplement is a safer choice.
Cancer is not the only negative outcome of too much exposure to UV light. UV light can also significantly age the skin, leading to discoloration, freckling, sun-spotting, dryness fine lines and even deep lines associated with squinting in the sun.
“Those who want to participate in outdoor activities should 1) avoid midday sun; 2) use hats and clothing to protect the skin whenever possible; and 3) wear sunscreen,” said Valentine. “Strict sun avoidance is neither necessary nor appropriate for 95 percent of the public, but intentional tanning should be discouraged.”
Those who must tan in order to feel confident in summer wear should consider spray tanning, although Valentine advises caution.
“So far, artificial dihydroxyacetone tans seem to be safe, although the possibility that inhalation of the DHA in a spray tan facility might have some long term health risks can’t be entirely excluded,” he said. “If I were to get a spray tan, I would want my mouth and nose covered during the process.”
Spray tans are available at most tanning salons, and can last for as long as a week.