Winter’s weather encourages us to spend more time indoors, but the risk of overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation — the cause of most skin cancers — remains high. Although many people believe that sun exposure isn’t a threat in the winter, this simply isn’t the case. UV radiation reaches us in the form of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, and while it’s true that UVB radiation isn’t as intense in the winter as it is in summer, a full 95 percent of the rays that reach the earth’s surface are UVA rays, and their intensity remains much the same throughout the year. Additionally, UVA rays can penetrate glass. So even indoors or driving on a cold winter’s day, it’s still possible to damage your skin.
There’s another reason that the season can be hazardous to skin health: the use of indoor tanning machines is higher during the winter. Indoor tanning is linked with an increased risk of all forms of skin cancer. Indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors, 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. Also, as we report in this issue of Sun & Skin News, a new study has for the first time calculated just how much damage a single tanning session can do.
This news is especially significant for people under age 25 (young adults ages 18-29 tend to tan indoors more frequently than do older adults), who seem to be more vulnerable to indoor tanning’s damaging effects: high school and college-age indoor tanners have a greater risk of developing all forms of skin cancer when compared with both non-tanners and tanners ages 25 and over. As we can see in the story told in this issue by former tanner Kate Neale, now age 21, indoor tanning can have dire consequences. We wish you a happy and healthy holiday season, and encourage you to enjoy all that the winter has to offer — safely!