Got Your Summer Tan On?

 Well, by now we all seem to know the dangers of outdoor tanning. But it’s pretty difficult to avoid if you lead an active outdoor lifestyle in the high elevation mountains. I always recommend at least a 30 spf lotion on a daily basis whether you plan to be inside or out. It’s just a fact of life up here in paradise. And if I’m out biking, hiking, kayaking, gardening…(you get the idea), I apply a 50-85 spf on all exposed areas, wear a hat and as much protective clothing as my activity allows and still get plenty of color!!

But some people continue to think that indoor tanning is safer, which couldn’t be further from the truth! Few people realize that exposure to a sunlamp or use of a tanning bed is now listed by the World Health Organization & U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as a Class 1 “known human carcinogen,” along with tobacco smoke and mustard gas. Some additional facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation include:

  • Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from natural sun exposure.
  • 10 minutes in a sunbed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the desert.
  • Tanning bed users are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors – and they’ll develop this potentially fatal disease decades before.
  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma – both disfiguring forms of skin cancer when they occur on the face, neck or chest.
  • The number of women under age 40 diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma has more than doubled in the last 30 years and the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma among women under age 40 has increased almost 70%.

So the fact remains: There is no such thing as a “healthy” tan. Any tan – even a base tan – signals DNA within skin cells has sustained damage.

Here’s how a tan develops: DNA within skin cells is damaged causing a molecular messenger to send word to surrounding melanin-producing cells that more pigment is needed. Once pigment is made, it’s literally injected by the pigment-producing cell into the skin cell’s “nuclear cap” – the area over cellular DNA that acts like an umbrella of pigment to protect the underlying DNA from additional UV exposure. Whether this tanning process occurs in natural sunlight or from tanning lamps is irrelevant. The damage is done. And this damage is almost always embedded in the DNA for years – if not a lifetime – to come, where it waits to show up as premature signs of age or even skin cancer, triggered by a bout of intense UV exposure, such as a vacation in the sun years after the initial damage occurs. So no UV-tanned skin, regardless of the UV source, is healthy. None.

Even though the skin cancer statistics are impressive, they usually don’t impress someone who focuses on the moment rather than looks to the future. Remember, the reason people tan is because they think they look better now. Cancer, in their minds is years away, if it ever does come. However, some of the ugly signs of tanning that may start to show up earlier are:

  • Deepening lines around the eyes, between the brows and on the forehead.
  • Little red lines under the skin (distended tips of blood vessels that get more obvious with age).
  • Dark patches of pigment across the cheeks, nose, forehead (melasma).
  • Dark spots and advanced freckling (freckling indicates UV damage so these areas should be watched for skin cancers, too)
  • Enlarged pores
  • Blackheads
  • Dry, rough or sensitive skin that eventually develops into tough, leathery skin.

Teens and Tanning Beds. By routinely tanning their skin starting at a young age, teens put themselves at greater lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. This is partially due to their increased risk from tanning beds because their bodies are undergoing accelerated growth rates so their cells are more prone to UV damage. If the UV is produced by newer high-pressure lamps, the damage can be many times greater. This danger is so high that melanoma has now become the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old. That’s why some states, like California and Vermont have banned the use of indoor tanning beds for all minors under 18. Several more states are considering similar legislation.

Even Snooki Gave Up Tanning Beds as a result of an intervention with The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Senior Vice President, Dr. Deborah S. Sarnoff. After discussing the dangers of indoor tanning and its connection to skin cancer, the “Jersey Shore” roommates all made the switch to spray tanning. There are also excellent self-tan lotions available for sale at almost any major drug/department store.

We will continue to focus on how to address sun damage in future newsletters. And again, I realize that many of us do get plenty of color while enjoying the beautiful outdoors (myself included). But there are certain precautions and treatments that we can take to minimize the effects of sun damage. I for one know that I have all winter to return to that overall “pasty white body look”, but I always take special year-round daily precautions to protect my face, neck, and hands which get year-round exposure.

We’ll focus in on things like how to treat pigmentation, and keeping your skin hydrated and healthy in our lovely but challenging alpine environment! Enjoy the rest of your summer! I know that I certainly will…on my bike, on a hike, in my kayak, and in my garden!

– Evelyn Beaman, Esthetician and yes, outdoor sports enthusiast.