Do you intend on getting a healthy tan this summer? You may want to rethink your plans. Tan skin is the body’s reaction to sun damage, along with freckles, wrinkles and brown spots. So unless your tan comes from a bottle, it’s probably not healthy.
More than one million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society. And despite the countless public service announcements and media messages, the numbers continue to rise.
According to recent studies by both the American Academy of Dermatology and British Association of Dermatologists, people in their teens and early twenties are less likely than any other age group to use sun protection, despite the increasing risk among this demographic.
Many young people ignore the risk because they don’t see the detrimental effects of the sun right away. Skin cancer often does not show up immediately. “Most skin cancers take years of cumulative sun exposure to form and reflect sun-worshipping behaviors of years past,” says Tanya Futoryan, MD, medical director of the Westport Dermatology and Laser Center in Westport, Conn.
And it’s not just young people who suffer the negative effects of the sun. It’s only been over the last two decades, that we’ve learned, as a society, about the dangers of the sun. Millions of women who spent their childhoods basking in the sun are suffering the consequences as well.
“Although we are better educated now on sun protection, it takes a long time to adapt sunscreen use and sun avoidance into our every day lives,” says Futoryan. “Every new generation has to be convinced of the dangers of sun damage.”
There are three major types of skin cancer. Bad sunburns which include blistering increase a person’s risk of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Long-term exposure to the sun increases the risk of all types of skin cancer including the less serious types: basal-cell and squamous-cell carcinoma.
The diagnosis of all types of skin cancer has increased and melanoma has become the most common cancer among young women aged 25-29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.
While it’s not entirely clear why the risk of skin cancer is skyrocketing in women, there are certainly a few clues. Alarming numbers of young people, mostly women, are using tanning beds in the United States. Study after study suggests that the UV rays at tanning salons are just as damaging as natural sunlight.
“In young women ages 15-29, the torso is the most common location for developing melanoma, which may be due to high risk tanning behavior," according to Francesco Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt Sinai School of Medicine NYC and an educational spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. “This is most likely due to increased UV exposure which includes natural as well as artificial UV light.”
There is also strong evidence suggesting that young people continuously ignore the threat of skin cancer. According to results from a recent study conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology, only one in three American teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 used sunscreen.
“While great advances have been made in early detection and prevention of skin cancer, it is important to educate young women about the importance of sun protection in the fight against skin cancer,” says Futoryan.
Here are some tips on how to stay safe in the sun:
- Use sunscreen (with broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection) liberally when outdoors.
- Seek shade between 10 am and 4 pm large sun umbrellas work great.
- Wear sun-protective clothing; hats and longer pants, shirts with sleeves, sarongs and wraps.
- Use UV absorbing sunglasses to protect the eyes.
In addition to your own monthly skin checks, an annual head-to-toe skin examination by a dermatologist, or skin doctor, should be a routine part of your health maintenance.
The Skin Cancer Foundation: www.skincancer.org/