Exposing the Safe Tanning Myth
As the weather warms up and we emerge from winter
hibernation, we dust off the sunscreen, dab it on and head
outside -- feeling safe from the sun.
But we’re not, says the Pennsylvania
Medical Society. “There is no such thing as a healthy tan.
UV rays can kill you,” notes dermatologist John Laskas, Jr.,
MD, current president of the PA Academy of Dermatology and
Dermatologic Surgery, and Pennsylvania Medical Society
member. “It doesn’t mean you have to stay in the basement.
But it does mean you need to do more than apply a little
Fellow dermatologist and Medical
Society member Bruce Brod, MD, agrees. “Unfortunately,
sunscreen gives us a false sense of security. It’s like
driving a car. A seatbelt can save your life, but you also
need to drive responsibly. The same goes for sun exposure –
you can apply sunscreen, but that alone won’t prevent skin
cancer, “ adds Dr. Brod.
According to a poll taken in the USA
more than 60% of respondents indicated that they rarely wore
sunscreen, even though they also stated that they were
concerned about cancer. Between 2001 and 2005, more than
2000 in the state of Pennsylvania died of melanoma of the
skin and 60% were men. This study also showed that males
were less likely to wear sunscreen than females, putting
them at significantly higher risk for skin cancer.
Pennsylvania is a colder state and even so the deadly
effects of UV radiation on the skin are significant.
But residents in colder climates
don’t need to worry as much as people who live in warmer
climates, right? Contrary to popular belief, skin cancer is
not just a summer issue. UV rays damage the skin 365 days a
year, reflecting off snow and passing through car windows.
There is also a popular misconception that a “base tan” can
make you better protected as you go outdoors. “Patients come
back from vacation and tell me proudly that they had a good
” base” and used sunscreen. And I tell them that the fact
that you’re tan means there’s skin damage,” adds Dr. Brod.
Both physicians are particularly
concerned about the use of tanning beds and booths,
especially by teens. The intense UV rays cause significant
skin damage which results in premature aging of the skin and
a higher incidence of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin
Dr. Laskas advises patients to be
reasonable. “Don’t sunbathe, indoors or outdoors. When you
do go outdoors, wear a sunblock that protects against both
UVA and UVB rays. If you’re bald, wear a hat and if you
absolutely have to be tan, try some of the new self-tanning
products to get that ‘golden glow’.”
Sun Safety Tips
sunscreen handy -- bathroom, purse, car. Apply at
least one ounce first thing in the morning before you go
outside. Reapply often if you are outdoors and immediately
after swimming. Choose an SPF 30 or higher that protects
against both UVA and UVB rays.
Wear a hat that covers your ears. Wear
sunglasses. Wear a lightweight shirt and pants that cover as
much skin as possible.
hours. Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4
p.m. when UV rays are strongest. And stay in the shade
tanning salons. Ten minutes in a tanning bed
equals two hours in the sun.
skin regularly. Also schedule a yearly exam with
To learn more about skin cancer
prevention, visit the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Family
Health & Wellness website at