Indoor Tanning and Your Skin

Howard Baker, RN BSN
Howard Baker, RN BSN

If you are like me spring is dancing in your head, with sounds of birds singing to the wonderful sights and smells of grass greening and flowers blooming. Ahhhhh—spring is in the air and all around us, what a welcome time of year. Spring usually affords us a much needed break from winter and school, sets the stage for bathing suits, sun and tanning beds. It seems everyone wants to be the first to tan as we race for beaches, mountains, and fields to enjoy and feel the sun tanning our skin.

The other day as I traveled through town I could not help but notice tanning store lobbies full of customers waiting to tan. Even despite warnings from dermatologist and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the risk of indoor tanning we still insist on browning our bodies. Indoor tanning has been linked with cancers of the skin including the most deadly melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and cancers of the eye (ocular melanoma). Indoor tanning exposes users to both UV-A and UV-B rays, and both can damage the skin and ultimately—can lead to cancer. A study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on Artificial Ultraviolet Light and Skin Cancer (2007), concluded that people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 75% higher risk of melanoma. The studies further conclude the use of tanning beds also increases the risk of wrinkles and eye damage, and changes to skin texture.

Myths about indoor tanning include: “Indoor tanning is safer than sun tanning,” both indoor and sun tanning are dangerous. Indoor tanning is controlled by timers, however; ultraviolet rays can vary based on the age and type of bulbs used. Your skin can burn and become damaged by using tanning beds and booths. “I can use indoor tanning to get a base tan to protect me from getting sunburn,” our skin tans as a response to injury, the skins normal response is to produce more pigment.

According to a 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System study, 16% of all high school students and 37% of white high school girls use indoor tanning. Studies also indicated people over the age of 30 tan less frequently. These studies are the driving force behind some states restricting or banning the use of indoor tanning to minors. Twenty-six states have enacted laws restricting minors’ access to tanning facilities. Of these states, California, Maine, New Jersey, and New York, prohibit minors under age 14 from using tanning facilities. North Carolina law prohibits persons under age of 13 from using tanning equipment without a written prescription from a physician that specifies the nature of the condition requiring treatment. Tennessee requires either an in-person signature by the parent or guardian or a notarized consent statement (National Cancer Institute).

Appearance seems to trump health when it comes to getting a bronzed glow and tan. We associate sex appeal and glamour with being tan. Exposure to UV rays even reinforces a physiological boost in endorphins that make us feel better. So, how do we get a tan, protect our skin, and feel good about ourselves? Take the lead of a few female celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton who are giving much impetus to spray booth-and-bottle tanning.

How do we protect ourselves when we are out in the sun? Slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, and wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and sensitive skin around them from ultraviolet light (American Cancer Society). When out in the sun it is important to realize that a typical light T-shirt has less protection from the suns harmful rays than sunscreen with a sun protections factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Slop on the sunscreen; remember sunscreens do not give you total protection. If applied correctly, a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 you still get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays for each 15 minutes spent in the sun. Make sure to check the expiration dates on your sunscreen, follow the label directions, and apply generously to dry skin at least 20 minutes before going outside to maximize absorption and protection. Generously, apply about 1 ounce of sunscreen (about a palm full) to cover legs, arms, neck and face for the average adult. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours and even more often if swimming or sweating. Slap on the hat (brim 2 to 3 inches) to protect your neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose and scalp. Wrap on UV-blocking sunglasses to help protect your eyes.

Please, protect your skin when out and about in the sun and if you have to have that so-called “healthy glow” consider spraying or rubbing it on. Your skin will look younger more beautiful longer all while protecting the skin you are in!

Howard Baker, RN BSN
For questions, comments, or suggestions on topics you want to read about please email me at: [email protected]

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