Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 61 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 1-Mar-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 2-Mar-2004
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One trip to the tanning booth can result in enough DNA damage to can cause skin cancer

As the long cold days of winter pale our complexion, thousands will turn to tanning booths to brighten their skin and their spirits. What people don’t realize is that the bronzed glow they so desire is only the skin’s visible response to damage from harmful ultraviolet rays. Dermatologists at the University of Michigan Health System say even one trip to the tanning booth can result in DNA damage that can cause skin cancer.

“The alarming reality of indoor tanning is the percentage of teens that are using tanning booths,” says Darius Karimipour, M.D., dermatologist and clinical assistant professor in the University of Michigan Health System’s department of Dermatology.

Approximately 80 percent of sun exposure and damage occurs before the age of 18, says Karimipour. Studies show it is young women who are putting themselves at greatest risk.

In a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 40 percent of white adolescent females ages 13 to 19 had used a tanning booth at least once, compared to 12 percent of males. Additionally, about 28 percent of these same females had used a tanning booth three or more times, compared to 7 percent of males.

Teens do not see the effects tanning may have on their health because usually they are not haunted by sun exposure until later in life. Cancer, wrinkles, “leathery” skin and eye problems are all delayed effects of sun exposure, notes Karimipour.

“This country has gone to great lengths to protect minors against other known carcinogens, like tobacco, and probably the same thing should be done with tanning booths," says Karimipour. And with indoor tanning, a single exposure has been found to be just as dangerous as the sun’s rays.

“The studies that do exist [on artificial tanning] suggest that like outdoor sun exposure, short-term recreational tanning booth exposure can lead to the same molecular and genetic damage that can cause skin cancer,” says Karimipour.

The “base tan” myth

Those who think a tanning booth “base tan” before vacation issues a ticket for safe sunning should think again.

Tanning booths usually have about 95 percent ultraviolet A light and 5 percent ultraviolet B light, says Karimipour. Ultraviolet B has long been linked to sunburns and skin cancer, while ultraviolet A was associated more with aging the skin. But now ultraviolet A is linked to skin cancer and genetic damage to the skin.

“It’s been shown that this ultraviolet A-induced tan that’s created with tanning booths isn’t very protective against the sun’s rays or ultraviolet B-induced tans. It only has about a sun protective factor of 4, which is a lot less than typical sunscreens,” says Karimipour.

So, not only can you still potentially sunburn, but you will have already damaged your skin by tanning artificially. Getting a base tan for fear of sunburn is not encouraged. Instead follow these tips while on vacation or for everyday life:

Safer sun exposure

* Limit sun exposure when it is most damaging from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
* Don’t be duped by overcast or cloudy skies. UVA and UVB rays can still cause damage even though they don’t seem as bright.
* Use a daily face cream and lip balm with a sunscreen or SPF of 15 or more.
* Buy sunscreen products whose label says “broad spectrum,” meaning it defends against both UVA and UVB rays.
* Wear a hat to protect your face, neck, ears, eyes and the sensitive skin on your head.
* Wear sunglasses that come with a label stating the glasses block 99 percent to 100 percent of the sun’s rays.
* Avoid artificial tanning methods, such as sunlamps and tanning beds.
* Be aware: Sand, snow, concrete and water reflect up to 85 percent of UVA and UVB rays. Always be sure to protect your skin with sun screen especially in these environments.

Still want the bronzed look without the skin damage? Karimipour suggests using the chemical tans such as Mystic Tan, other spray-on tans or a tan in a bottle. These chemical tans will be a lot safer than ultraviolet radiation type tans, but it is still necessary to wear a proper sunscreen over the artificial tan.

Background on Skin Cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma are the three most common types of skin cancer and usually result from too much sun exposure. Both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are easily treated, especially if detected early.

Melanoma, though not as common, is much more serious. Melanomas are cancers that usually begin as a mole in the skin and then can spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms of skin cancer include: sores or lesions in the skin that do not heal, change in color, shape, or thickness of a mole, and bleeding, itching or pain.

Use the “ABCD’s” as a guide to check melanoma signs

Check your skin—even skin that is not usually exposed to the sun—regularly for changes in moles, new growths or sores that do not heal. Places that aren’t necessarily linked to sunburn or are difficult to see such as the scalp, eyes and under the nails should be checked. The “ABCD’s,” asymmetry, border, color and diameter can help you decipher an abnormality on your skin that could potentially be cancerous.

Asymmetry is checked by inspecting the shape of a mole. If the mole is unevenly shaped or one side of the mole does not match the other side, report this to your physician.

Border is the mole’s outer edge, which is normally smooth. A mole with blotchy or ragged edges must be shown to your physician.

The mole should be one Color. Multiple colors, such as a mix of black, brown and red are an irregularity and indicate a potential problem.

The Diameter of a mole should be less than six millimeters or the size of a pencil eraser. Any mole wider than this or increasing in size should be evaluated by your physician.

Remember: The issue is change. A change in shape, size, color or symptoms should be reported to your physician.

Facts on Skin Cancer:

* This year an estimated 1.3 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed.
* Melanoma is the most common cancer in women ages 25 to 29.
* One person dies of melanoma every hour in the United States.

For more information, visit the following websites:

UMHS Comprehensive Cancer Center: Skin cancer

UMHS Health Topics A-Z: Sunburn

Medline Plus: Skin Cancer

National Cancer Institute

Written by Erin Block

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