Dying for the perfect tan
08 June 2011
Despite years of warnings and rising skin cancer rates, the tan still seems to be a rite of passage for many when the warm weather begins.
"For many, it seems that a tanned look is synonymous with good health,” says Barb Belisle with the Canadian Cancer Society. “But we urgently need to turn that thinking around because tanning is dangerous and can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.”
The incident rates for skin cancer – including the deadliest form called melanoma – continue to rise for both men and women in Canada. There were more than 6,000 new cases of skin cancer, including melanoma, recorded by the Alberta Cancer Registry in 2008 – the most recent statistics available.
Indoors or outdoors, there’s no safe way to get a tan. Tanning beds and sun lamps release ultraviolet (UV) rays that start the tanning process in the skin – just like the sun. Tanned skin is damaged skin, and even when the tan fades, the damage is still there. Exposure to UV rays – no matter their source – increases the risk of skin cancer.
A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer showed that using indoor tanning equipment before the age of 35 increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer by as much as 75 per cent.
“Melanoma skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer for young people between the ages of 15-29,” says Belisle. “Because it is mostly preventable, we want to push for indoor tanning bans to protect young people from this deadly trend.”
It may be quite the battle. The tanned look is a popular one – thanks in large part to many young Hollywood celebrities, like Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, and even Jersey girl Snookie – arguably a poster child for both sides of the debate.
The most recent National Sun Survey found that 49 per cent of young women (ages 16-24) and 28 per cent of young men actively try to get a tan from the sun. Using tanning beds is more common among young women, 27 per cent of whom tan indoors.
This year, Victoria, BC became the first Canadian city to pass a bylaw banning anyone under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds. The bylaw also requires customers who appear to be under the age of 25 to present ID to prove their age.
The World Health Organization has declared the tanning bed a known carcinogen that produces five times more damaging ultraviolet radiation than exposure to the midday sun.
Common tanning myths
Myth: Going to a tanning salon to get a base tan provides protection from a sunburn.
Reality: Having a base tan provides at the very most two to four SPF, which is not adequate protection from the sun.
Myth: A tan is a sign of health.
Reality: Any change in skin colour is skin damage, which can lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Indoor tanning equipment can emit UVR at levels that are five times stronger than the midday summer sun.
Myth: Tanning beds provide vitamin D.
Reality: Tanning beds are not a safe way to get your vitamin D. A few minutes of unprotected sun exposure and/or taking a vitamin D supplement are much safer methods for getting adequate vitamin D.
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.