By-Amy Movius MD
Ultraviolet radiation usually refers to radiation that comes from the sun. Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation refer to the two types of this radiation that penetrate the earth’s atmosphere and have effects on our bodies. UVA accounts for most (95%) of this solar radiation and is relatively stable in amount despite time of year; UVB increases in intensity in the summer, and the middle of the day.
When UVR penetrates our skin in excess, it causes redness and sunburn. For many years, it has been common knowledge that UVR causes skin cancer, including melanoma, which can be deadly. Melanoma is the second most common cancer for women in their 20s, and the third for men in their 20s The rates of all types of skin cancer has been steadily rising as people continue to overexpose themselves to sunlight.
It doesn’t stop there, however. Increasingly, people are intentionally exposing themselves to ARTIFICIAL UVR in the form of tanning beds and sunlamps. The majority of people who artificially tan are young women and girls. A 2003 publication reported that 24% of non-Hispanic white teenagers had used a tanning facility. What makes this especially frightening is that the intensity of UVR emitted by a tanning bed may be 10 to 15 times that of the midday sun! The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology are all supporting efforts to ban the use of any artificial tanning devise by minors. California is the only state to have passed this legislation, while some others require parental permission. Unsurprisingly, the tanning industry has fought these efforts to restrict teenage access.
There is no safe way to use a tanning bed. It is a common myth that getting a “pre-vacation” tan in a salon will prepare and protect the skin for a sunny vacation. This is completely false. Pre-vacation tanning actually damages the skin more, in two ways. First, there is the exposure to the high intensity radiation emitted by the tanning bed. Secondly, during the vacation these people use fewer sun protection measures since they “preventatively pre-tanned” and so have more solar radiation exposure as well. You are better off using sunscreen, protective clothing, and some common sense while enjoying the outdoors. If you must have a golden tan, consider a “sunless” spray tan option. But don’t forget your sunscreen or you’ll still get burned!
Ultraviolet Radiation: A Hazard to Children and Adolescents. Council on Environmental Health and Section on Dermatology, Pediatrics 2011; 127; 588-597
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Healthy Living- A Look at Tanning Beds
By-Amy Movius MD
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