In the 19th century pale skin was the standard of beauty and considered a sign of wealth and the upper classes. As a tan indicated someone who worked outdoors, usually in a menial job, a tan was disdained. Clothing styles were more protective than nowadays and hats and parasols were pervasive.
And then came Coco Chanel… who in the 20s made tan fashionable. A tan became associated with prosperity and the accompanying free time for outdoor leisure pursuits and recreation. The myth of the healthy tan was born!
By the middle of the 20th century doctors began to realize that sun exposure had significant adverse health effects.
We now know any tan is unhealthy. Studies show that sunlight causes squamous cell skin cancer and its precursor, actinic keratosis, increases number of moles, is the principal cause of the unsightly skin changes associated with aging, and is a major factor in the induction of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Studies suggest that UVB light, the traditional sunburn rays, may trigger melanoma. Even wavelengths not directly absorbed by DNA, such as short visible wavelengths may participate in melanoma formation. But most importantly, it is UVA light (such as that also emitted in a tanning bed) that is implicated as the cause of melanoma development. It comes as no surprise therefore that tanning bed use is associated with an increased risk of melanoma. In fact regular sun bed use can increase ones chance of melanoma development by a whopping 75%!
The incidence of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions. To subvert this epidemic, some things will need to occur. Sun avoidance when feasible, hats and clothing must become a habit. Sun avoidance is vital for a couple of reasons. Firstly, current sunscreens have their limitations. Current sunscreen formulations may not protect from all the sunlight wavelengths and features involved in melanoma formation. Secondly, people generally don’t use sunscreen adequately. Sunscreens, although not a panacea, are a useful tool IF they are used properly! For best results, daily use of an SPF 30-45 sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA light is recommended. Apply it in the AM before any sun. Frequent re-application is needed every 2 hours of exposure, and more often when swimming, perspiring heavily, or if there is rubbing that would remove product. People generally only use 25-50% of the proper amount of sunscreen and skip spots. Finding a sun block you ENJOY using is also key for compliance- if you like it you’ll use it! There are now tinted sunscreens for an elegant make-up look.
We now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that UV and tanning beds are known carcinogens, cause chromosome damage and skin cancer including deadly melanoma. Young women in particular are not heeding the message of “no more tan.” A third of Caucasian girls between 14 and 22 surveyed used tanning beds and a quarter of those did so weekly! 81% said they tanned outdoors frequently or occasionally in the past year.
The WHO and the American Academy of Dermatology support legislation prohibiting access to artificial tanning devices by children under 18. NY State is trying to ban tanning bed use in minors. CT bill 972 proposes that a parent or guardian be required to read and sign the waiver for indoor tanning by a minor.
Let’s get real about protecting our kids; don’t allow yours to use a tanning bed. Tell them how it ages their skin prematurely and causes skin cancer. Let’s be smart. And in this case, as in most, smart is beautiful!