Pass on the Fake Tan

Healthnotes Newswire (May 31, 2007)—Artificial tanning doesn’t protect the skin from burning and it might lead to skin cancer, according to a study in the International Journal of Cancer.

More than 60% of women and 50% of men aged 18 to 50 years have used some sort of indoor tanning equipment. Many do it to get a “prevacation” tan, thinking that it will make them less likely to burn during their island getaways, while others use tanning beds regularly to keep that sun-kissed glow. Whatever the reason, people should be aware that the risk of developing two types of skin cancer—malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma—increases with the use of indoor tanning devices.

Melanoma is the least common, but the most deadly, form of skin cancer. It is seen more often in fair-skinned people who tend to burn easily and in people with a first degree relative (mother, father, sibling, or child) who has had the cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is also seen more often in light-skinned people. It usually develops later in life and early treatment is necessary to prevent spread of the cancer to internal organs.

Basal cell carcinoma represents 80% of all skin cancers. As it rarely spreads to other body parts, this type of cancer has a 95% cure rate with early treatment.

The most common risk factor for developing any kind of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.

The new report analyzed the results of 19 different studies to assess the risk of developing skin cancer from indoor tanning. People who had ever used indoor tanning equipment were 2.25 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma than were people who had never tanned indoors. Of particular concern was a 75% increase in melanoma risk among people who had used artificial tanning equipment before the age of 35. “This result suggests a greater vulnerability of younger people to the carcinogenic impact of indoor tanning,” said the authors. Indoor tanning did not seem to affect the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.

“The evidence does not support a protective effect of the use of sunbeds against damage to the skin from subsequent sun exposure. Young adults should be discouraged from using indoor tanning equipment and restricted access to sunbeds by minors should be strongly considered,” they concluded.

While avoiding artificial tanning beds is wise, some experts believe that a moderate amount of sun exposure is necessary for good health. A sensible approach is to avoid peak burning times—typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—and to allow the hands and face to soak up some rays for 10 to 15 minutes several times per week to supply the body with much-needed vitamin D. These experts believe that, for people who limit themselves to moderate amounts of sun exposure, the diseases that vitamin D helps prevent—such as bone diseases and cancers of the prostate, colon, and breast—pose more of a health risk than skin cancer.

(Int J Cancer 2006;120:1116–22)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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