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Melanoma skin cancer is the most common form of cancer for adults ages 25 to 29. What is more important, the number of new cases and deaths is growing, almost 20% in last 10 years. What could be the reason of that trend? It was 6 years ago when WHO added ultraviolet (UV) radiation-emitting tanning devices - tanning beds and lamps - to the list of the most dangerous risk factors for melanoma. Using tanning beds may increase it by 75 percent!

Summer Tan

Tan is what we get by exposing our bodies on ultraviolet radiation (both UVA and UVB) – more or less beautifully darkening our skin. This is due to higher melanin production. Its function is to protect our bodies by absorbing solar radiation (darker colors absorb light better).

The popularity of tanned skin was changing over the years. A few centuries ago pallor was a sign of being born in a rich family and dark skin was associated with working class. It was even popular to use poisonous whiteners to create pale skin. Things changed in 19th century, when working class moved into the shadows – to factories and mines. Soon it occurred that children developed rickets and other bone deformities. That led to discovering, that sunlight is crucial for bone development. Moderate exposure to the sun contributes to the production of vitamin D by the body and has many positive effects on our life.

From trying to catch some sun, sunbathing holidays to using special creams. When from healthy-only did it become trendy? In 1923, after Coco Chanel sunburn.  It was not much later when unhealthy whiteners changed to unhealthy tanners. These days, the desire to acquire a tan has led a large increase in the use of tanning sunbeds.

Artificial sun

Sunbeds used in solariums are devices that emit ultraviolet radiation to produce a cosmetic tan. We’ve been told that they offer an effective, quick and harmless alternative to natural sunlight. First two are true. But is it really harmless? Most of the UV radiation in tanning beds is UVA, but it may be over 15 times more intense than midday sun. This type of radiation penetrates skin much deeper than UVB and (not luckily) does not cause burns, which are our natural warning, to protect us from sunbathing too long.

It has been shown that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation may cause skin cancer. No wonder there is growing evidence that lamps used in solariums damages the skin and increases the risk of developing skin cancer. One in every three cancers diagnosed worldwide is a skin cancer being a reason of death every 57 minutes. Frequent tanning bed use triples the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest from skin cancer. Tanning bed use under the age of 35 increases melanoma risk by 87%.

Melanoma isn't the only problem: people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. In Australia, 1 in 6 melanomas in people aged 18 to 29 are caused by tanning beds, and they have been attributed to an estimated 281 new melanomas a year, 43 melanoma-related deaths, and 2,572 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma. It is also the reason of cataracts and other eye diseases. Advance skin ageing, wrinkles and reducing immune system response seem to be the least important issues here.

Think before it is too late

Because of all that the World Health Organization does not recommend the use of UV tanning devices for cosmetic reasons. The International Agency for Research on Cancer places the use of tanning beds in the highest cancer risk category, describing them as carcinogenic even if used as the manufacturer recommends.

You may think that melanoma is not as bad as it sounds. Why don’t you listen to survivors?

Remember there is a plenty of safer options (if you really need that tan), including spray tanning lotions with dihydroxyacetone (DHA) that is not orange anymore. Examine your skin and visit your dermatologist if you see anything disturbing. 95% diagnosed early (stage 1A melanoma) will live for more than 5 years. About 88% - more than 10 years.

An estimated 9,940 people will die of melanoma in 2015. Don’t work your way to be one of them. Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent.

Samanta Makurat

Chemistry student at the University of Gdańsk, fascinated with molecular modeling. Nature enthusiast.


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