Planning on getting a “base tan” from a tanning bed, before you start hitting the beach? Don’t. From dark spots to skin cancer and wrinkles — both the sun’s natural ultraviolet (UV) rays, and artificial UV rays from tanning beds and sun lamps can harm the skin.
Freckles or dark spots are often harmless effects of UV rays. Moles occur, too. Freckles, dark or “sun” spots, and moles all have melanocytes in common. When UV rays (ultraviolet light) hit the skin, melanocyte cells make the skin (and the skin’s spots) darker in color. That’s when freckles, dark or sun spots, and moles can appear. Most moles are normal (non-cancerous or benign), but they can sometimes change over time and test positive (malignant) for skin cancer. Among the several types of skin cancer, melanoma is the least common (accounting for one percent), but it’s also the most deadly. The American Cancer Society says that melanoma rates have been rising nationally for 30 years.
Artificial UV rays in tanning beds are emitted at high intensity levels to cause rapid tanning, and should be avoided. UV-B level radiation, is similar to the strength of the sun outside. UV-A level radiation penetrates the skin even more deeply (and dangerously). Not even specially-designed “protective” eyewear with a tight seal (a requirement not always offered or enforced at tanning salons) can completely block UVR from the eyes, putting you at risk for ocular (eye) melanoma, too. The bottom line: There’s no such thing as a “safe” tanning bed. According to the World Health Organization, people who have used tanning beds at least once at any age have a 20 percent higher risk of developing melanoma than people who have never used one. The first use of a tanning bed before age 35 increases the chances of getting melanoma by 59 percent.
If caught early, skin cancer is often treatable and curable. If spotted late and it spreads, it can lead to scarring, or death.
Learn the A-B-Cs of skin cancer, and these tips to protect yourself:
- Asymmetry (shape): Does one half of the mole match the other half?
- Border: Are the spot’s edges ragged or smooth?
- Color: Is the spot black, brown, mixed-color, or see-through? Are there patches of blue, pink, red, or white?
- Diameter (size): Is it bigger than an eraser on a pencil (about ¼”)?
- Evolving (change): Is it new (appearing after age 21)? Does it change color, shape, size, or thickness? Does it bleed, crust, hurt, itch, scab, or swell?
Never use tanning beds (or sun lamps). Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection outside. Don’t skimp on sunscreen (use SPF 50 or higher)! Remember to re-apply it every two hours while skin remains dry (and after toweling off following sweating or swimming). Wear light-colored clothing to stay cool. Seek shade. Avoid 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. intense sun. Check your body often for spots that “don’t look right.” Do a “mole patrol” with your doctor! He/she may advise you to see a skin specialist (dermatologist). Visit a dermatologist at least once a year (or every six months, if you have lots of moles, get sunburns, have a family history of skin cancer, or have used a tanning bed or sun lamp). All of these factors increase skin cancer risk.
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano