A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Tanning and cancer: why risk it?

Dr. Alexandra Carley is concerned with societal attitudes toward sun tanning.

“Many people still do not realize that tanning is dangerous,” said the Marshfield Clinic dermatologist.

She sees tanning as a huge risk for skin cancer as well as photo aging issues such as wrinkles, sun spots and a leathery skin texture.

Illustration of a penguin on a beach, under an umbrella with a bottle of sunscreenHow much of a risk is tanning?

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Each year in the U.S., nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, making it the most common type of cancer.

Deaths from skin cancer are relatively rare but it remains a concern, especially with melanoma.

Carley said a concern about the potential for skin cancer is disfigurement. The most aggressive forms can take all or parts of an ear, nose, lip or other prominent features.

“Skin cancer has the potential to be truly life-altering and dangerous,” she said.

You may be more at risk for skin cancer if you have a family history, had sunburns as a child or have fair skin.

Protect your skin indoors and outdoors

Most everyone can protect themselves by taking 6 simple precautions:

  • Apply a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB rays) water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel. If you have sensitive skin, read labels to find sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Wear protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • The sun’s rays are strongest in the middle of the day, so if your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Even under an umbrella, sun can reflect off water, sand and snow.
  • Never use tanning beds.
  • Check your birthday suit on your birthday – if you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, see a doctor right away.

“For most people, protecting against sunburn just takes some thought and a little planning,” said Carley.

If you’re concerned about changes in your skin or abnormalities see a dermatologist for a screening.

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