National Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Time for the Truth about Tanning

Ah, the merry month of May—time for prom, the beach, and Memorial Day, that long, sun-filled weekend that kicks off the summer.

Tanning 1

It’s no coincidence that May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. The National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention campaign this year is all about sunburns.

But everyone—especially teens—needs to hear a bigger message, too: There is no safe tan, contrary to what your local tanning salon wants you to believe. Did you know that many metro areas now have more tanning salons per square mile than Starbucks or McDonald’s? So there are plenty of opportunities to fry all year round, with a discount for frequent tanners. Researchers have even documented a trend of mother/daughter bonding through tanning bed visits!

tanning 2Teens, in particular, are vulnerable to the media mania promoting sun-kissed skin. And so, melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, is becoming more and more common among young people. The United States Cancer Statistics (USCS) 1999–2009 Cancer Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report shows that melanoma is the second most common cancer among young people age 15 to 29. And teens just keep on tanning—about one in three young white women under 25 tans indoors. Having sunburns early in life is equally dangerous.

Getting the no-tan message across to teens is a challenge. After all, it’s hard for teenagers—just like the rest of us—to connect what we do today to health outcomes down the road.tanning 3

 

To help with this task, Danya was pleased to develop The Truth about Tanning infographic for CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control as part of the NPIN contract. (You’ll see images from the infographic here, and you can download The Truth about Tanning for your website, social network, or blog!) Based on behavioral interventions that have been successful in reducing intentional tanning, the infographic dispels common myths about tanning with a focus on appearance-related themes, which are definitely top-of-mind for young women.

My personal favorite image from the infographic plays up the “yuck factor” with the risk of picking up skin infections from tanning beds that haven’t been cleaned properly—or at all! More and more dorms and apartment complexes are offering tanning facilities as a perk to attract residents . . . but who’s doing the cleaning?

PrintCDC also recommends these easy ways to avoid sunburn:

  • Schedule outdoor activities before 10 or after 4 when UV rays are less intense.
  • Stay in the shade.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim.
  • Use sunscreen with at least 15 SPF even on cloudy days. Put it on again every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

As a life-long sun lover, I admit it’s tempting to ignore the facts (just this once, I tell myself—I’ll cover up next time). But the mirror doesn’t lie. The truth is, we pay a price for tanning, regardless of the source, sunlight or tanning bed. Melanoma is just not worth the tan it takes to get there.

By Madeline Barrow

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