While in college, 24-year-old Angela Peters regularly used tanning salons to build her skin’s tolerance to the sun in preparation for her summer job as a lifeguard.
But last year she found out that her regular overexposure to both the tanning salon’s artificial and the sun’s natural ultraviolet rays had led to something more serious than a sunburn.
Her dermatologist diagnosed her with Melanoma, a type of skin cancer known for its difficulty in treatment and connections with over exposure to the sun and told her she would have to have the cancerous section of skin removed.
According to skin care experts and dermatologists, these types of cases are on the rise and despite their warnings about the possible health risks associated with tanning, the $4 billion American tanning salon industry is not showing any signs of slowing down.
Tanning salons claim they provide their 30 million American users with a quick, safe and controlled tan. But skin care experts say the only safe bet with tanning is wrinkles, faster aging and long-term damage of the skin and the possibility of cancer.
The International Smart Tan Network, a professional tanning salon association that educates tanning professionals about responsible sun tanning, claims that “tanning doesn’t cause skin cancer.”
According to a statement on the network’s Web site, “Heredity, diet and repeated sunburn are probably the biggest risk factors. No research has ever shown a causative link between moderate sun exposure and skin cancer.”
“Tanning beds are a very intensified way of getting a tan quickly without the burn, but this is because they use UVA light,” said skin researcher Jan Marini.
Research has shown that there are three forms of ultraviolet light, all of which can burn and damage the skin. The first form is ultraviolet-C, which stays in the atmosphere and tends to only affect pilots. The second form is ultraviolet-B, which are shorter in wavelength and easily burn exposed skin. The third and what dermatologists call the most dangerous of three are ultraviolet-A.
According to renowned beauty expert Peter Lamas, UVA rays are longer in wavelength and can penetrate through barriers like clothing and glass to burn exposed and unexposed skin.
Dr. Coyle Connolly, a dermatologist and clinical professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine said, “The tanning industry misleads its users into thinking UVA light is safer than UVB. Their claim sounds good, because UVB rays were the only one directly linked to sunburns and skin cancer.
“Recent research shows that excessive exposure to any of the three can lead to advanced aging of the skin and cancer.
“Even if you’re not getting the burn, UVA light is still penetrating the skin Too much exposure leads to damaged DNA, pre-cancerous lesions and certain types of skin cancer, not to mention wrinkles and leathery skin,”
Some dermatologists recommend that if you must tan to do it gradually by spending 10-15 minutes in the sun and then seeking shade.
Connolly recommends using an artificial tanning product. Skin care experts say that today’s products, if used three times a week, will give you that desired glowing tan without the orange looking skin. But Connolly cautions, SPF protection must still be worn if using an artificial tanning product.
As for Peters, she had the 5-inch section of skin removed from her back and now has to see a dermatologist every 3 months and apply sunscreen daily. She thinks other things contributed but truly believes that it was her two years of regular tanning salon usage that led to her Melanoma.
“Tanning is seen as something innocent, but if I hadn’t caught the melanoma it could have spread into my organs and I could have died,” Peters said. “The only thing tanning can compare to is smoking.”
Said Lamas: “If you don’t choose to protect yourself and continually go, your odds of getting cancer steadily get higher. You’re literally playing Russian roulette with your life.”