How to take care of your skin in the sun

The popularity and desire to have bronzed skin can come at a very high risk. UVA rays can damage DNA and cause skin cancer.

Are those couple minutes in the tanning bed every so often really worth the chance of lifelong trips to the dermatologist?

Nurse Practitioner in dermatology Crystal Meyer with Lakes Dermatology in Spirit Lake, Iowa, helps to debunk some of the common misconceptions of tanning as well inform on the dangers of it.

Tanning beds use UVA rays to tan the skin. These rays are what cause tanning and burning, which in turn damage people’s DNA and increases the risk of cancer.

Besides cancer, tanning can cause premature aging, eye damage and immune system suppression.

Meyer said that 10 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to four hours in the direct sunlight.

Although there is so much out there on why tanning beds are dangerous, people continue to use them. This might be because they like the way they look or because it is more convenient than self tanners.

Meyer shares the truth about tanning bed myths and why they are false.

Myth: As long as you do not burn, you are safe.

“There is no safe UVA,” Meyer said. “One session of tanning will increase your risk of melanoma by 20 percent. These are facts straight from the American Academy of Dermatology as well as the Cancer Society.”

Myth: Most skin cancers are not a big deal, and in most cases, a dermatologist can get rid of these cancer spots in one visit.

Squamous cell and basal cell are the two most common skin cancers. Meyer said she had an individual come in with a 0.3 millimeter scale on top of their nose that turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma that exceeded across their nose, and they ended up needing a skin graft for treatment.

“Melanomas are your scariest because they are silent and deadly,” Meyer said. “A lot of times, you can’t just get them cut out."

Myth: Getting a base tan in a bed before going out in the sun will reduce your chance of sunburn and sun damage.

Meyer said this is an inaccurate statement. 

All people are doing is increasing their exposure to UVA rays a little sooner.

Myth: Tanning helps your mood.

People believe tanning puts them in a better mood because they are getting some light.

Psychiatrist and psychologists will say that a little bit of sunlight will help with a person's depression.

“On the dermatology side of things, it’s kind of frowned upon; however, in the psychiatric world, it’s okay. So there’s a risk versus benefit there.”

Myth: Tanning helps get Vitamin D.

UVA does not create Vitamin D. People get Vitamin D from actual sun exposure. UVB is what helps bodies produce Vitamin D as well as getting it from different types of foods or supplements, Meyer said.

Myth: People with naturally darker skin do not need to worry about sun damage as much as those with fair skin.

The Fitzpatrick Scale is used in dermatology to describe a person’s skin.

Someone who falls on the Fitzpatrick Scale as a grade one will have ivory skin (before sun exposure), light blue, light gray or light green eyes and red or light blond hair. 

Someone who is a grade six on the scale has dark brown skin, brownish black eyes and black hair. 

If a grade one and a grade five or six person go out in the sun for ten minutes, the grade one person will have more sun damage than the grade five or six because they will have more melanin, which acts as a defense mechanism against the sun.

“Despite this, burning and tanning still both damage DNA,” said Meyer.

Meyer recommends spray tans or over-the-counter self tanners as a safe alternative.

“They are doing some studies on products that can enhance melanin production, which would cause more of a bronzing to the skin,” Meyer said.

For protection, Meyer recommends EltaMD sunscreen. 

If you notice any spot on your skin that you are unsure of, it is better to be proactive and get it checked out.

It is okay to not be tan. Everyone should feel comfortable in their natural skin. Think about the long-term effects and you will thank yourself in the future.

(2) comments

Marc Sorenson

Regular, non-burning sun exposure is a wonderful healer, and you should know the truth about melanoma:

•In the past four decades, sunscreen use has increased by 400%, and melanoma has increased by 400%!

•75% of melanomas occur on areas of the body that are seldom or never exposed to sunlight

•In the U.S., as sun exposure has decreased by about 90% since 1935, melanoma incidence has increased by 3,000%.

•As in the US, while sun exposure in Europe has profoundly decreased, there has been a spectacular increase in melanoma.

•Men who work outdoors have about half the risk of melanoma as men who work indoors.

•Outdoor workers, while receiving 3-9 times the sun exposure as indoor workers, have had no increase in melanoma since before 1940, whereas melanoma incidence in indoor workers has increased steadily and exponentially.

•The advent of sunscreens, along with their steadily increasing use, has not reduced the risk of melanoma.

•Increasing melanoma incidence significantly correlates with decreasing personal annual sunlight doses.

•Outdoor workers do get numerous sunburns but still have a dramatically lower risk of contracting melanoma.

•New melanoma cases are several times higher per capita in states like Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire than in Texas, which has the lowest rates of new melanoma.

So, since melanoma increases as sun exposure decreases, should we continue to blame the sun?

For more information: sunlightinstitute.org and read the new book, Embrace the sun.

Marc Sorenson

I note other errors in this article. Sunlight tans with both UVA and UVB. UVB is essential to stimulate the production of vitamin D in the skin. Sunbeds (tanning beds) produce vast quantities of vitamin D and profoundly increase bone strength. Here are a few facts about sunbeds.

•A 20-year study demonstrated that both sun exposure and sunbed exposure reduced the risk of death; women who used sunbeds were 23% less likely to die of any cause than women who did not use them.

• Sunbed use is associated with increased vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is essential to human health.

• Sunbed use is associated to lower breast-cancer risk.

• Sunbed use is associated with stronger bones.

• Sunbed use can cure psoriasis and eczema, and dermatologists often recommend sunbeds.

• Sunbed use more than three times yearly is associated with a 40-50% reduced risk of endometrial cancer.

• Sunbed use is associated with a reduced risk of clots.

•Sunbeds can also help to build a protective tan, which prevents sun damage during sunny vacations. To learn more: and to read all of the scientific documentation regarding sunbeds and sun exposure, visit sunlightinstitute.org and read Dr. Marc Sorenson’s book, Embrace the Sun

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