Skin cancer risk: Pale is the new tan

‘Young women who use tanning beds before age 30 can have a sixfold increase in the risk of developing skin cancer.’

Many warm-weather activities are just around the corner. In an effort to maintain a sun-kissed look, many teens will turn to tanning beds, which can come with an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

“A considerable problem with that is many people, especially young people, turn to tanning beds in order to accomplish what they think is a ‘healthy glow,’” said Joseph M. Flynn, D.O., MPH, FACP, chief administrative officer, Norton Medical Group, and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute. “There is nothing healthy about this.”

It’s easy for teens and young adults to fall into the beauty trap of tanning beds, especially when they hear phrases like “healthy glow” and “base tan.” Even those who know the dangers of tanning can be enticed by discounted tanning packages, promises and peer pressure.

The truth of the matter is, pale is the new tan.

“Young women who use tanning beds before age 30 can have a sixfold increase in the risk of developing skin cancer,” Dr. Flynn said. “The risk can increase with each tanning bed exposure and result in almost half a million skin cancer cases in the United States.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning session increases the chance of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk by almost another 2%. If those tanners are under age 35, the risk for melanoma increases by nearly 75%!

While exposure to UV light is fairly consistent across age groups, research indicates that high-risk exposure happens more commonly in teens. Moreover, blistering sunburns and overexposure to the sun or other source of UV rays during childhood greatly increase the chance of developing skin cancer later in life.

Just as you encourage your children and preteens not to smoke, you also should advise them to avoid tanning beds and tanning outdoors. The earlier you have the conversation, the better. Both are dangerous, and cancer doesn’t care how you are exposed to harmful UV rays.

Spending time in the sun does offer some benefits — vitamin D, fresh air and a boost in motivation to exercise — so long as you follow a few sun safety practices.

Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

Norton Children’s offers advanced pediatric cancer care.

(502) 629-7725

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, wear a hat and appropriate clothing that covers your skin, and avoid direct sunlight during peak hours, usually in the early afternoon.

But even wearing sunscreen does not guarantee your child will never get skin cancer. The most effective thing you can do to help your child avoid melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer is to change the “beauty factor.”

Help your teen let go of the idea that fair skin (“pale”) means unhealthy, and that they need to be tan to be attractive.

Alert your teen to the long-term dangers of tanning. Many teens don’t realize how severe skin cancer can be. It could mean chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, drug treatments or all of the above.

Make sure your teen knows how their actions today increase their risk later. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles the chance of developing melanoma later in life.

Skin cancer is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease that can be prevented by avoiding tanning beds and protecting skin in the sun. Pale is the new tan: Embrace it.