Teenagers tempted to head to the tanning salon before prom should think twice: just one indoor tanning session per year in high school or college boosts the risk of developing potentially deadly melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year raises this risk almost another two percent. The risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a common nonmelanoma skin cancer, increases by 25 percent after only one to two indoor tanning sessions. The risk soars to 73 percent after six or more sessions.
“A tan, whether you get it on the beach or in a tanning bed, damages your skin,” says Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Despite what you may hear at the tanning salon, a tan doesn't come without consequences: the cumulative damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation can lead to skin cancer, as well as wrinkles, brown spots, and other signs of premature skin aging.”
A young melanoma survivor shares her regrets
Chelsea Price was just 23 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma. The Virginia native tanned indoors as a teenager before vacations and special events, including prom. Since her diagnosis, Price’s treatment has included several invasive surgeries, which have left her with multiple scars on her neck and back. Although she is currently cancer-free, Price diligently continues to have skin checks, CT scans and treatments every three months.
“My battle has been ongoing, and it has not been easy. It has included repeated trips to the hospital, multiple surgeries and visible scars,” said Price, now 25. “If I could do things over again I would have avoided tanning beds at all costs. My scars are a constant reminder of this painful journey, and I can’t shake the feeling that I wouldn’t have them if I had accepted my natural skin tone and protected my skin the way I do now.”
Tips for Sunless Tanning
The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended that women embrace their natural skin tone. However, those who can’t resist the bronzed look but won’t sacrifice their health to achieve it should consider sunless UV-free tanners. Sunless tanners effectively produce an even “tanned” look without causing skin damage. The days of unsightly orange streaks are over; new self-tanners are easier than ever to apply and more capable of providing natural-looking color. They are available in many different formulations, including creams, lotions, gels, pump sprays, aerosols and wipes. For best results, consider these tips:
- Prep your skin. Exfoliate skin with a scrub or loofah and follow up with a moisturizer to ensure even application.
- Follow the package directions closely. For example, wait at least 12 hours after shaving to apply (to avoid dark spots in hair follicles) and don’t use on skin with active eczema.
- Be patient. Self-tanners can take 30-60 minutes to produce visible color on the skin, and this color typically lasts about five days.
- Repeat as necessary. Generally, the product should be reapplied daily for two to three days, until the desired shade is achieved. Then, reapply about three times a week to maintain the shade.
- Go to a pro. Professional spray tans are an option for those who want to safely achieve a bronzed look in a hurry. Many salons provide automated application of high concentration, no-rub, aerosolized non-UV tanning products, while others provide a customized airbrush tan. When receiving a professional spray tan, wear protective gear for the mouth, eyes and nose to prevent ingestion or inhalation.
- Don’t rely on sunless tanners for sun protection. Even if your self-tanner contains sunscreen, reapply a separate broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every two hours when outdoors. Note that sunscreen is not the only form of sun protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended that everyone follow a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use.
For those ready to give up their tans, The Skin Cancer Foundation advocates embracing one’s natural skin tone, like many celebrities do. The Foundation’s Go With Your Own Glow™ campaign features print public service advertisements, developed to encourage women to love — and protect — their skin, whatever its natural hue. Go With Your Own Glow™ relies not just on health and safety information but also on fashion and beauty trends to convey the message that tanning is unhealthy and simply no longer in style.