Summer Tans are nice but they can come at a very high price
Recently Dr. Paula Moynahan was featured in the Accent section of American-Republican. In this article, Dr. Moynahan and the author, Tracey O’Shaughnessy warns of the potentially harmful exposure to the sun can bring. The article also included a helpful infographic from the American Skin Cancer Association.
You don’t want to hear this, but skin cancer is an epidemic in this country. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.
You don’t want to hear this because you’ve just endured a miserable cold, damp winter and the intoxicating balm that comes from sitting on your deck with your face to the sun seems so redeeming, so relaxing, so indulgent and so – dangerous, says Dr. Paula Moynahan.
“We must remain mindful the sun is not only a source of health and energy but that overexposure can have adverse effects leading to illness and even terminal sickness,” said Moynahan, a plastic surgeon who practices in New York and Waterbury.
Tanning beds and tanning parlors have proliferated despite proof of permanent skin damage and the cancers they cause, Moynahan said. The World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as and tanning lamps in its highest cancer risks category, along with plutonium and certain forms of radium. And yet people keep going. The use of tanning beds in individuals younger than 30 years old contributes to 75 percent risk of melanoma, Moynahan said.
“These frightening statistics fail to deter those who are determined to achieve a tan, which constitutes the profound and permanent risk to well-being,” she said.
- PRASAD SUREDDI, medical director at Aesthetique Cosmetic and Laser Center in Southbury, said part of the increase may be explained because doctors are diagnosing skin cancers earlier. Still, he says changes in the ozone layer, increased radiation and the rise in the use of tanning beds have all been factors. “As plastic surgeons, we see it all the time. It used to be in older patients, but now we see basal cell cancers at a much younger age, 20s or 30s,” he said. “Afterwards, the (tanners) regret it,” Sureddi said. “Especially chronic users regret it.”
The majority of basal cell carcinomas, the most common form of skin cancer, appear on the face. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. An estimated 4.3 million cases of such carcinomas are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.
Moynahan said that prior to the 19 century, tanned skin was evidence of belonging to a community of workers since it was the working class who toiled “by the sweat of their brows.” By contrast, the aristocracy took their ease in an indoor life of leisure sheltered from the unforgiving elements. Their pale complexions signified their elite status and high rank. “They went to extremes to preserve their pallor by sitting in the shade and using umbrellas and parasols when strolling outdoors,” she said.
COCO CHANEL IS CREDITED with changing all that. Following a vacation on the Mediterranean in the 1920s, Chanel returned to France with a tan. Her reputation as a “trendsetter” catapulted tanning into the realm of the chic. Eventually, tanning became addictive, a sign of leisure and privilege, the exclusive domain of the wealthy, Moynahan said.
Certain people and ethnic groups are more susceptible to sun damage. Those who are fair and don’t have as much melanin can be sun-damaged more quickly, said Sureddi. The darker the skin, the higher the melanin content. It’s the melanin that gives our skin hair and eyes their color. “Everyone of us has melanocytes in our body but they are not programmed to work in people who have fair skin. They don’t produce the same amount of melanin, natural protection. It’s like sunblock.
Prevention should be year-round, said Sureddi, who recommends sunscreen of 15 to 30 SPF year-round.
“My recommendation is to use certain topical creams to protect your skin, maintain the health and sometimes improve your health,” he said.
Moynahan said a sunscreen of SFP 30+ is optimal for providing adequate protection. She recommends applying it 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapplying frequently as needed, following a swim or a workout.