Summer is fast approaching, and at its heels is a common decision — To tan or not to tan? Rather than focusing on one extreme or the other, however, people need to make an effort to have a balanced approach to sun exposure and safety, expert say.
Many people agree that having a tan makes you look better and feel better about your appearance. This explains why the tanning industry is so big.
Skin cancer education efforts have seen a surge in recent years. Advertisements for sunscreens, UV-free tanning methods and testimonials from skin cancer survivors and families of those who were not as lucky can be found in almost every magazine.
Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, has increased among women by more than two percent a year for the last 20 years.
Exposure to ultraviolet light is known to be the number-one preventable cause of all skin cancers. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, only about 18 percent of women use sunscreen daily.
Cindy Furtado, a phototherapy technician and medical assistant at The Fort Collins Skin Clinic, said doctors in her office are not suggesting people never expose themselves to the sun.
“We’re realistic,” she said. “We don’t expect you to hide from the sun, but just be smart about it, use sunscreen. Sun exposure is always best in safe amounts.”
Kiley Clippinger, a student at CSU, tans on recommendation from her doctor. Clippinger has pityriasis rosea, which causes dry, raised, red oval-shaped bumps to appear on her arms, chest, back and stomach because of a vitamin D deficiency.
Ultraviolet light treatment under the supervision of a dermatologist is a common way for patients to deal with pityriasis rosea. Clippinger is also careful to check any moles or marks on her body for changes, and since she is a naturally freckled person, she regularly undergoes full-body skin screenings from her doctor.
Kacey Wojdakowski, a 22-year-old elementary school teacher in Colorado Springs, was diagnosed last July with stage II melanoma. By the time she noticed that the mole on her chest had changed color and had it checked by a doctor, the cancer had spread to the inner layer of her skin.
“I was lucky enough that it didn’t spread into the tissue below the skin or into my lymph nodes,” Wojdakowski said.
Once melanoma works its way deep into the skin, the cure rate drops to about 50 percent. If it spreads to the lymph nodes, the cure rate decreases to about 25 percent.
“This was one of the worst experiences of my life, and I’m grateful to be alive and healthy,” she said.
Wojdakowski had always been an avid tanner, spending her summers outside in the intense sun of the Colorado mountains and tanning indoors about two times a week during the winter, to maintain her color. She now uses “Mystic Tan,” a brand name of airbrush tan offered at most tanning salons, as well as various products from the drugstore such as body lotions that give skin a small dose of color daily.
“I’ve wanted to tan since my surgery,” Wojdakowski said. “I love the sun, and I love being tan, but I’ve decided that taking care of my skin is more important than how I look. I was just one of many who got skin cancer. People always think, ‘It can’t happen to me,’ but it can, and it did happen to me.”
Clippinger and Wojdakowski are each examples of moderated, well balanced approaches to safe UV exposure tailored to their unique situations.
Most tanning salons offer education on using tanning beds in a safe manner. Of course, the safest solution is to use UV-free tanning options, such as spray or airbrush tanning, which is widely available in the Fort Collins area.
For a listing of salons in Fort Collins, visit http://yellowpages.aol.com and search “tanning salons.” For recommendations on UV protection from the American Cancer Society, visit www.cancer.org.
Staff writer Chelsea Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org