Between 500,000 and 1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year according to a University of Wisconsin professor, and recent research has shown that tanning salons may aggravate the onset of the cancer more than was previously thought.
Despite the prevalence of skin cancer, the popularity of tanning salons has increased steadily in recent years, and tanning devotees continue to deny the link between skin cancer and “fake-baking”.
In a recent study done by the National Cancer Institute, the lifestyles of women between the ages of 30 and 50 were analyzed in relation with skin cancer. The study found that the use of tanning lamps during the teen and early adult years greatly increases the possibility of melanoma, one of the most serious types of skin cancer.
Three types of skin cancer have been identified, and melanoma is the worst of the three because it is the hardest to treat. Melanoma has a high fatality rate, and, although it occurs much less frequently than the other two types of cancer, it is quite deadly, Dr. Lorraine Meisner said, a professor at UW.
“It is such a tricky cancer,” she said.
Ultraviolet rays, which cause the skin to tan as a protection against bacteria, come in two forms, UV-A and UV-B. The UV-A rays, which are used in tanning salons, allow users to tan without burning because the rays go much deeper into the skin than UV-B rays. The damage caused to skin cells then festers deep within the skin, mutating the cells and eventually causing cancer.
Skin cancer is caused by cells that mutate after exposure to the sun’s radiation. New cells, which are constantly growing, are the most susceptible to mutation because they are weak when dividing. New cells then form around the mutated cells, and only when these new cells begin to thin out years later does skin cancer become apparent. According to Meisner, this is how early damage occurring during youth can lie dormant until much later in life.
Researchers studied 100,000 Scandinavian women and found that women who visit tanning salons one or more times a month are 55 percent more likely to develop a malignant form of melanoma. This percentage doubles when the women reach their 20s. Skin cancer takes several years to appear, but tanning salons can greatly speed up the process according to the study.
“Anything that causes tanning is potentially able to cause skin cancer,” Meisner said.
UW Sophomore Rachel Estrin said she believes there are better ways to tan than using skin-damaging tanning beds.
“There are so many other options regarding self tanning, like sunless tanning lotion or mystic tan, that it just doesn’t make any sense to choose the option that causes cancer and, less importantly, makes one look like a raisin later in life,” Estrin said.
Experts such as Meisner recommend applying liberal amounts of sunscreen at least 2 or 3 times while out in the sun to prevent skin cancer. SPF 30 protects against 97 percent of the sun’s rays, and SPF 15 prevents against about 95 percent of the sun’s rays.
The difference is not in the percentage, but the amount of times one applies sunscreen. It is also important to wear protective clothing since the rays can cut through some clothing. Not everyone is worried about the study’s results and safety precautions, however.
“Everything causes cancer now-a-days. Why not just enjoy life and do what you want,” UW sophomore Alexandra Gorbokon said.