Family Health: Skip the tan, reduce melanoma risk

Summer has arrived in western Montana! And with it, so have the opportunities to get outside for more physical activity, enjoy the healthy foods grown right in our own backyard, and spend time with family and friends.

It is also the time of year when people start talking about going to a tanning bed to get their “base tan” for an upcoming wedding or in anticipation of a weekend spent outside. Some may think it is a healthy way to get some vitamin D.

What might come as a surprise is that a base tan does not equate to a safe tan. The fact is that an indoor tan, as well as any other kind of tan, means your skin has been exposed to UV light, which is a risk factor for skin cancer including melanoma. According to the Food and Drug Administration, in 2009 a part of the World Health Organization known as the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that tanning devices are, in fact, “carcinogenic to humans.” Indoor tanning can also hasten skin aging and cause eye damage if protection is not properly used.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an alarming 27 percent of girls in the 12th grade have gone for indoor tanning. When indoor tanning happens at younger ages, an increased risk of melanoma is even higher. That is why many states and other countries have banned indoor tanning for minors.

What can you do to reduce the risk of skin cancer including melanoma? Here are some tips from the American Cancer Society:

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher with broad spectrum protection).
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses.
  • Limit the amount of time spent in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most direct.

Also, if you know someone who tans in a tanning bed, have a conversation with them about the risks of indoor tanning. Perhaps even more importantly, talk to them about pressures they may be feeling to look a certain way. Hearing from a friend or a loved one that they are just right the way they are may go a long way.

Be sure to enjoy all the fabulous outdoor activities that our area has to offer, but before you go out the door take a few moments to protect yourself and those you care about so you can enjoy many more seasons to come!

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Kristin Anderson, MD, MPH, Physician writes for Community Medical Center.