Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

May 30, 2012 at 11:08 am , by

I hate to admit it, but I have a lot more in common with Tanning Bed Mom and Snooki than you might guess. They say confession is good for the soul, so I’ll just be honest: I am a recovering tanning addict.

When I was a teenager in Tampa, Florida, my friends and I tanned pretty much year round. We’d “lay out” at the first hint of summer, usually in March or earlier, and we devoted way too much time to tanning well into October and November. The Florida heat and humidity were stifling, but we would sweat through it—all in the pursuit of the perfect shade of golden brown. Of course, we got burned a lot, too.

Then tanning salons started popping up everywhere, promising the deepest tan in a lot less time, and we were hooked. Everyone did it. There weren’t any age restrictions yet, and it was a lot harder to burn in 20 minutes under the bulbs than it was in a few hours in the sun. We had no idea that those fake UVA rays from the beds were putting us at serious risk for skin cancer.

All these tan-obsessed memories came rushing back when I heard the news that melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—is on the rise, with women under 40 being the hardest hit. Between 1979 and 2009, melanoma incidence increased eightfold among young women. Many experts are attributing the increase to the popularity of tanning salons.

Thankfully, I’ve let go of my need to tan—the risks just aren’t worth it. Plus, summer is a lot more fun now that a) I don’t waste it just frying on a towel (boring!) and b) I don’t get awful burns anymore. As the long, sunny days of summer loom, here’s your essential guide to sun safety:

The Base Tan Myth
There is no such thing as a healthy tan, even for people who never burn. Besides causing wrinkles and age spots, about 65 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with sun exposure, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

What Happens During a Skin Check
If you’re like me, you’ve probably already done a little damage to your skin. Almost all of us have, which is why skin checks are so important. Check out the video of our health director Julie Bain getting a skin check with her dermatologist to see what it’s like, then schedule your own appointment every year.

Get the Most Out of Your Sunscreen
Grabbing a bottle of SPF 30 isn’t enough. To really protect yourself from sun damage, you need to know what’s in a product and how to apply it.

What It’s Like to Have Skin Cancer
Our health director Julie Bain knows a thing or two about skin cancer—she got her first one in her 20s and she’s had seven more removed since then. Yes, seven! Read her story here.

What Really Happens During Mohs Surgery
I used to think that if I ever got skin cancer, it’d be easy to just have it lopped off like a mole. Find out what really goes on during skin cancer surgery in our slideshow. It’s no piece of cake.

Great Sunless Tanning Products
Still craving a sun-kissed glow? Check out our roundup of the best sunless tanners.


My Place in the Sun

July 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm , by

EmotiSun with Sunglasses - 3D renderI have such a love-hate relationship with the sun. It has warmed me, helped me feel relaxed and sexy, and caused my petunias to proliferate so fast you can almost hear them grow. On the other hand, it has burned me, caused the hostas on my terrace to dry and curl up like crepe paper, and sprinkled unwanted brown spots across my white Scottish-Swedish skin. It has also given me skin cancer. Six times, to be precise, starting when I was only in my 20s.

I avoid the sun now—and I miss it. I’m envious when I see lithe, tanned young girls cavorting on the beach while I stroll in my hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and SPF 100. And I worry that I’m not getting enough vitamin D. Having low levels of this vitamin (well, actually, it’s a hormone), has been linked to a higher risk of cancer, vascular disease, infectious illnesses, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s and even obesity, according to studies. And we don’t know if supplements really do the trick—or what the appropriate dose is. Read more

Indoor Tanning is Toxic, Too

May 28, 2010 at 11:08 am , by

Not convinced that indoor tanning is dangerous? Better take a look at the findings of this brand-new, large-scale study in Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that people who’ve tanned indoors are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) than those who’ve stayed away from tanning beds. Their findings add to mounting evidence that there’s nothing pretty about indoor tanning.

Want to learn more about skin cancer, tanning and its risks? Check out the first article in our three-part series on skin cancer.

Previous research demonstrated a weak link between tanning beds and melanoma. But this study establishes a much firmer association, supporting what many dermatologists have long suspected: Indoor tanning, regardless of what type of device used, increases your risk for melanoma. In fact, using high-speed/high-intensity devices doubles your risk; high-pressure devices can quadruple it. Moreover, the more you use tanning beds (whether measured in hours, sessions or years), the greater your risk. The FDA is so concerned, it’s considering a ban on their use among teens.

So are tanning beds worse than sun exposure? It’s unclear, but you can burn from both. “The real take-home message is that UV radiation, regardless of its source, is harmful,” says lead researcher DeAnn Lazovich, Ph.D.

Not convinced that pale is beautiful? Try our favorite sun-less tanners.

Photo courtesy Evil Erin