Winter is FINALLY over (for most of us), and what better way to treat that pasty skin than with a trip to the tanning salon, or knowing what we know about tanning, playing it safe and picking up a bottle of spray tanner?
Although tanning beds are known to cause skin cancer, there is limited research on spray tanning. However, the FDA and other experts are beginning to question the potential negative health outcomes from inhaling tanning spray.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active chemical in spray tanning products, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for external use, but it is not approved as an all-over spray. The FDA states that “DHA should not be inhaled, ingested, or exposed to areas covered by mucous membranes including the lips, nose, and areas in and around the eye (from the top of the cheek to above the eyebrow) because the risks, if any, are unknown.”
Despite what we know and what we continue to learn about the dangers of tanning, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. In fact, tanning bed use is on the increase in many places, with people putting themselves at risk and driving the need for ever more effective communication about those risks and ways to avoid.
Perhaps a direct message is best: Tanning—either naturally or unnaturally—can cause skin cancer. “Tanning beds emit UVA rays which damage the cells in the skin that can lead to skin cancer.” says Mary Duh (Dew) from the dermatology department at Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It develops in the cells that produce melanin (the pigment that gives your skin color). Duh also mentions that “when exposed to UVA rays, DNA damage occurs and the skin darkens in order to prevent more damage. As this process keeps occurring there is a higher risk of melanoma due to the DNA damage.”
- Avoid midday sun. Avoid the sun when its rays are the strongest. For most area in the United States, this is between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Because the sun’s rays are strongest during this period, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter or when the sky is cloudy.
- Wear sunscreen year round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours—more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
- Wear protective clothing. Wear tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does.
- Avoid tanning beds. As discussed, tanning beds emit UV radiation, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
The majority of tanning bed users in the United States are women. Previous health communication research frequently focused on the risk of skin cancer, but few studies assessed the mediated communication environment that may surround women’s beliefs and behaviors relevant to tanning. We as health communicators hope to discover whether these methods can be widely disseminated through communication channels popular with women and even our youth. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, tanning harms your skin, and the amount of time spent tanning isn’t worth the damage to your health.