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In a Heartbeat

Is indoor tanning ever a good idea?

| Monday, March 13, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Another winter storm is upon us, but spring dances and prom season are around the corner. Many people will seek out a summery look through indoor tanning. But is it ever safe, even a little? We asked Dr. Laura Ferris, a UPMC Cancer Center dermatologist, about the risks associated with indoor tanning. She recently published a study on the subject in Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

What are some risks associated with indoor tanning?

The biggest risk of tanning is developing skin cancer — tanning increases the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Other risks include wrinkles, pigment changes and skin discoloration. Skin cancer is most often found in people ages 50 and older but results from damage done throughout a lifetime. In fact, most skin cancers are thought to be caused by ultraviolet light exposure accumulated since childhood. Spray-on tans and self-tanning creams are the only safe forms of tanning. If you are out in the sun, it's recommended to use a broad spectrum sun screen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Is it safe to occasionally use a tanning bed?

No. Tanning is a carcinogen, so it can never be safe. Tan skin is actually the top portion of a cell defending the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is located. Mutations in DNA from ultraviolet light cause cancer. Tan skin represents the cells' last defense to place a barrier between ultraviolet light and DNA. Every time someone tans, their DNA is exposed to something that causes cancer.

What did your recent study about indoor tanningfind?

In our recent study, we analyzed the reasons why patients seek skin cancer screenings. More than 40 percent of patients reported indoor tanning use, and when we compared patients who were tanners to those who were not, we found most tanners wouldn't normally be at risk for skin cancer if they had never used tanning beds. Additionally, our study found about 25 percent of indoor tanners reported tanning bed usage as their reason for screening, indicating they knew their habits were unhealthy. Out of the people we surveyed, patients who tanned indoors were most likely to believe that skin cancer screening has been shown to prevent skin cancer and to reduce the risk of death.

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