The Truth About Tanning Beds

The Truth About Tanning Beds:

Magazines, television, cinema, even with social media, no matter where you look, society shows us images of picture perfect people to shape our definition of beauty.  Sure, we all know magazines are filled with tweaked and air brushed photos, actors spend hours in makeup chairs before a shoot and we always must pre-approve a photo before it can be posted on Facebook, but a less and less obtainable standard of beauty continues to be set.  Some people have started to catch onto this trend and are taking a stand when it comes to weight.  A small movement now is taking shape (no pun intended) to help remind us what a healthy weight can look like on different people.  Fit is the new beautiful, you don’t have to just be skinny anymore.

If we can start to reset standards for beauty when it comes to weight, it’s time we start to do the same with other aspects of physical attractiveness.  Can anyone guess where I’m going with this?  You got it, the ever sought after tan!  I live in Florida and its not called the sunshine state for nothing!  Most residents walk around with year round tans here in this bright and sunny land, but it seems to have gone from hard to avoid, to a yearning for this bronzy complexion.  I see tanning salons everywhere charging an arm and a leg, here in Florida where sunshine is free and not in short supply, to help you get and maintain that coveted beach glow.  Sure it may look pretty by today’s beauty standards, but no one addresses the damage that tanning does to your skin.

The sun emits UVA and UVB rays.  UVA rays are longer wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation that penetrate deeper into your skin and are responsible for underlying damage, including a predisposition to skin cancers, including melanoma, and aging.  UVB rays are shorter wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation that burn the top layers of skin causing the ever dreaded sunburn.  It is UVA rays that are mostly emitted from tanning beds and are advertised to provide the tan you are seeking without the burn. Sounds too good to be true, right?  Yes, you are right!

Tanning beds greatly increase your risk of developing melanoma, one of the top cancers affected young women today.  Melanoma is a dangerous skin cancer that can locally affect the skin or even easily invade and cause systemic complications by infiltrating other organs.  It is said that one in 75 Americans will develop melanoma, those aren’t great odds, so why play with fire and increase them?  Due to the dangers or tanning beds and their incidence of increasing the risk of melanoma, tanning beds are now labeled as carcinogenic for humans.  One Mayo Clinic dermatological surgeon stated that melanomas are now an epidemic among young women.  Some young women not only don’t see the harm in going to tanning beds, but there are misconceptions that tanning beds are not as harmful as the sun, or even worse, that your tan is actually healthy.  Just to clarify, tanning beds are more harmful than sun exposure due to the high concentration of UVA rays and no, your tan is a sign of sun damage, not heath.

Your tan is your body’s defense mechanism to help protect itself from further harmful rays.  Melanocytes are the cells in your skin that produce color (moles, freckles, tan) which provide you this protection, and melanoma is the cancer of these melanocytes.  Melanoma can spread beyond your skin and infiltrate into lungs, brain, liver and bone most commonly.  Best case scenario for a diagnosis of melanoma is a disfiguring scar, worst case scenario is fatality.

How can we blame this increase in melanoma occurrence on tanning beds alone you may ask?   Overall, men and women are equally exposed to the sun.  Both genders go outdoors and catch a few rays no matter what the activity is.  Whether it is golfing, fishing, laying out by the pool or beach, even going about day to day activities such as going to and from work or the grocery store, we get a cumulative effect of UV radiation.  Yet, most tanning salons have a largely female cliental.  With melanoma rates increasing so drastically among young women, there seems to be a more than coincidental correlation.

If we can bring back a more feminine curvy figure, we can bring back the beauty found in non-sun damaged skin.  Healthy skin is beautiful and stays beautiful much longer than tanned, sun damaged and aging skin.  Protect not only your beauty, but your skin’s health.  It is the largest organ of your body and deserves a lot of TLC which does not include the use of tanning beds!

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– Evan Thady, ARNP

If you enjoyed this post about tanning beds, see our recent posts on The Scary Facts about Tanning Beds and Are Sunless Tanners Safe?

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