Tanning risk in long run

Mar 062005
Authors: Jennifer Johnson

Tips to Avoid Sun Damage (provided by www.aad.org)

Plan your outdoor activities to avoid the sun's strongest rays.

As a general rule, avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Wear protective covering such as broad-brimmed hats, long pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce sun exposure.

Wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent ultraviolet ray protection.

When outdoors, always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or greater, which will block both UVA and UVB, and apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure.

With Spring Break right around the corner and the warmth of summer rapidly approaching, many students may be in a hurry to achieve the perfect tan.

There is more to tanning than most students realize, however, as it produces several negative long-term effects on the skin and physical health.

"Tanning occurs when the skin produces additional pigment to protect itself against burns from ultraviolet rays," said Deb Morris, director of health education at Hartshorn Health Service. "Tanning beds emit these ultraviolet rays. However, when tanning salons became aware of the harmful effects of UVB radiation, many began using beds, which emitted mostly longwave, or UVA light sources."

Although UVA rays are less likely to cause burns than UVB rays and most salons claim they are safer, links to malignant melanoma and immune system damage are still suspected, Morris said.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org), the number of skin cancer cases has risen over the years because of exposure to UV radiation. More than 1.3 million new skin cancer cases are likely to be diagnosed in the United States this year.

Skin aging and cancer are delayed effects and do not usually show up until many years after the exposure. Since the effects are not immediately visible, young people are often unaware of the dangers of tanning, according to www.aad.org. Physicians and scientists are especially concerned that cases of skin cancer will continue to increase as people who are tanning in their teens and 20s reach middle age.

"Having seen many people who have tanned a lot when they were younger and then show up with leathery, wrinkled skin in their late 20s and beyond, as well as cancerous or worrisome moles, I have changed my attitude over the years," said Dr. Kathlene Waller of Hartshorn Health Service. "Instead of thinking that tanning makes a person look healthy, I appreciate knowing that pale skin is healthier."

Morris believes it is especially important for young people to know all the risks of tanning.

"They should talk with a dermatologist, look at older people who have tanned and think about the long-term effects," she said. "Most importantly they should not tan and (should) use sun protection whenever they are exposed to the sun."

Although tanning in the natural sunlight is better than the rays received from a tanning bed, Morris said it is still best to keep exposure limited to the natural rays and avoid burning.

"The sun is an awesome source of Vitamin D. It assists with mood disorders such as Seasonal Affect Disorder, and appears to clear the complexion," she said. "None of these require exposure that would lead to tanning because minimum exposure is all that is needed."

The main detriment of tanning is that it damages the skin, so Morris suggests a few safe ways to color the skin but avoid the negative effects of UV radiation.

"The use of 'sunless tanning' products, such as mousses, cr�mes, lotions, gels and even tanning sprays are a safer alternative," she said.

Kasey Henderson, an employee at Ultratanz, 2170 W. Drake Road, said her store see a lot of students start to come in around Spring Break in order to establish a good base tan and avoid burning.

"We definitely see students come in earlier and earlier each year to try to quickly develop a good tan for the warmer months," she said.

Ultratanz offers "high-pressure" tanning beds for its customers in which safer bulbs are used to block out burning rays and develop a good base tan.

"I choose not to tan because I don't want to suffer the negative consequences of it down the road," said Rhonda Padilla, sophomore dance major.

Padilla said she does not feel the need to go to a tanning salon and is nervous about the related health risks involved.

"I think that many students want to look darker," she said. "I think that spray tanning is a better alternative to a bed, and a healthier way to achieve this look."

Morris believes that there is too much of a focus on relating a tan to the look of beauty instead of focusing on the risks of cancer, eye injury and damage, premature wrinkling, and light-induced skin rashes.

"I personally ask students that I think are tanning if they are aware of the risks, and most are not," she said. "I think we should all value our true skin color."

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