Summer is finally here and, after a long northeast Pennsylvania winter, who doesn’t want to be out in the sun? We are looking forward to golf, tennis, working in the yard, lounging by the pool and getting some color on that pale winter skin. Many of us talk about a healthy glow and think that having a tan makes us look good. That is not true — tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside — whether sunburn or suntan — indicates damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays. In fact, many of the skin changes associated with aging are really from sun damage.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and, unlike almost all other kinds of cancer, the rates are climbing.
To lower your skin cancer risk, you need to protect your skin from the sun and avoid indoor tanning.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking the following precautions:
• Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours.
• Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
• Wear a hat with a wide brim.
• Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
• Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB protection.
• Avoid indoor tanning.
A lot of people believe indoor tanning is safe. The truth is that tanning beds injure thousands of people each year badly enough to go to a hospital — and that’s just the beginning. People who indoor tan damage their skin, often getting wrinkles, warts, rashes and dark spots. They may even get skin infections, cataracts in their eyes, and — most dangerous of all — skin cancer, including melanoma.
The CDC’s “The Burning Truth” communication initiative exposes the following tanning myths:
• A “Base Tan” is not a safe tan. There is a common misconception that a tan acts as the body’s natural protection against sunburn. A tan is the body’s response to injury from UV rays, showing that damage has been done. A “base tan” only provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about three or less, which does little to protect you from future UV exposure.
• “Controlled Tanning” is not safe tanning. You may have heard that indoor tanning is the safer way to tan because you can control your level of exposure to UV rays. Safe indoor tanning is a myth. Indoor tanning exposes you to intense UV rays, increasing your risk of melanoma, which is the second most common cancer in women between 20 and 29 years old.
Tanned skin is not healthy skin. Many believe the tanning bed gives them a “healthy glow.” Whether tanning or burning, you are exposing yourself to harmful UV rays that damage your skin. In fact, every time you tan, you increase your risk of melanoma. The truly healthy glow is your natural skin color.
Avoiding indoor tanning and protecting yourself from the sun when outdoors are the best ways to reduce your chance of getting skin cancer.
The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the cancer institute, visit cancernepa.org or call (800) 424-6724.