Teens And Tanning: The Risks, Myths and More

More than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. At that rate, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point during his or her life. With these staggering statistics, it's no surprise that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and even the Environmental Protection Agency are urgently advocating for better sun safety and awareness of tanning cancer.

But what is surprising is the rapidly increasing rate of cancer and other tanning dangers in teens and young adults. According to the AAD, melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) is now the second most common cancer in women ages 20-29 and in males and females ages 15-29. Basically what was once an old man's disease is now popping up in otherwise healthy youth.

Why Teens and Tanning Shouldn't Mix

Many experts believe an uptick in tanning, specifically indoor tanning bed use, could be to blame for rising skin cancer rates among young people. The AAD notes that on an average day in the United States, more than one million people tan in tanning salons--and nearly 70 percent are teenage girls and young women.

The problem? Like regular poolside tanning, tanning beds expose skin to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Except that UV radiation levels in indoor tanning devices can be up to 15 times stronger than normal sunlight. And if that's not scary enough, UV rays have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a group one carcinogen, meaning they're in the same category as tobacco, mustard gas, and plutonium.

The Myths about Tanning Dangers

Despite universal warnings and frightening statistics about skin cancer, tanning is still a popular practice among some teens. Part of the problem is a wealth of misinformation on tanning dangers. So here are four common tanning myths set straight that nurses can share with their patients:

  1. Skin cancer is easily curable. Not necessarily. Melanoma can be fatal if not detected early. Pre-cancerous or cancerous cells must be removed, usually by cutting out the affected tissue, which can leave scars. If surgery isn't an option, laser therapy, radiation, or even chemotherapy may be used.
  2. Your body needs sun to stay healthy. Sunlight is necessary for your body to synthesize Vitamin D, but it only takes 5-15 minutes of sun, two to three times a week. That's it!
  3. Moderate tanning is OK. Cancer is a risk even if you only spend a little bit of time bronzing. Just one sunburn can have long-lasting, damaging effects.
  4. Tanning beds are safer than the sun. Tanning beds usually emit mostly UVA rays that are less likely to cause sunburns. However, those UVA rays are believed to cause deeper skin damage, including premature aging and possibly melanoma. Not to mention an estimated 700 emergency room visits per year are related to tanning beds use.

Helping Teens Avoid Tanning Dangers

Tanning dangers include everything from common sunburn and premature wrinkles to skin cancer, cataracts and immune system suppression. So it's up to parents, doctors, nurses, friends, and teachers to spread the word about teens and tanning: It's time to stay out of tanning beds--and get into the shade.

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