Last week I overheard a woman explaining away her newly coppered skin. Her hand was stretching back her collar, showing off a swimsuit-line the sun had stenciled across her shoulders. “I guess my SPF4 wasn’t strong enough,” she laughed.
SPF 4? Mayonnaise would probably offer better protection. In my line of work, any SPF rating below 15 is a joke, and any attempt to get a suntan is no laughing matter. Tanning profoundly increases your risk of melanoma, a cancer of the cells that produce skin pigment. It’s ugly. It can be deadly. Shrugging off the risk is as foolish as asking your x-ray tech to forgo the lead apron. The UV rays of the sun are exactly what those aprons are trying to protect you from—radiation.
I see too many skin cancers, too frequently, to believe people really hear the warnings. Some wrongly believe tanning beds give them control over skin cancer, the power to stave it off by getting bronze but not burned. (A suntan is just as capable of causing skin cancer as a sunburn is!) The fact is, the World Health Organization now ranks tanning beds right up with tobacco, asbestos, and plutonium in terms of cancer risk. And a person who begins using tanning beds before age 30 increases her risk of getting skin cancer by 75 percent.
Odds are that you’re not going to get melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers. Most people don’t, but there are plenty of other skin cancers and skin damage caused by tanning. I find it ironic that in our pursuit of this outdated badge of beauty, we are actually chipping away at our looks. Sunspots, premature wrinkles, large blackheads, broken capillaries—these are all handiwork of the sun.
I’m happy to see the changes afoot in our society when it comes to tanning. Many communities have begun to pass laws to restrict tanning-bed usage for minors. Runway-show fashionistas and women’s magazines are lately snubbing tanned skin in favor of fair skin, which they see as a symbol of healthfulness. Under new rules being introduced by the FDA, starting this summer sunscreens rated below SPF 15 will be unable to claim they provide protection against skin cancer or aging, only sunburns. They won’t be able to claim they’re waterproof, and they won’t be able to say any sunscreen provides protection for longer than two hours. They are cracking down, because it’s crack-down time.
Beautiful skin is healthy skin. Instead of trying to turn it bronze, treat it as though it were gold. The future you will be glad you did.