New research shows rates of melanoma among young women increased by 800% between 1970 and 2009
Published Jul 26, 2019
It’s a warning that we all hear regularly — going to a tanning bed increases a person’s risk of getting skin cancer by a huge percentage. A study released by the American Academy of Dermatology this week found that using a tanning bed just one time increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — by 20%. If that person is below the age of 35, the risk increase is actually 59% — and continues to increase with every subsequent use.
One visit to a tanning bed can significantly increase a person's melanoma risk
The study was looking at reasons behind a shocking increase in melanoma cases among young women. Researchers found that between the years of 1970 and 2009, rates of melanoma among young women, ages 18-39, have increased by 800% — making it the second most common cancer among young women. The rate of other types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, significantly increased during that time frame as well. Researchers suspect that because these skin cancers take years to develop, young women who frequent tanning beds or regularly lay out in the sun don’t think it can happen to them — but it can, and it does.
Another shocking statistic about tanning bed use among young women showed that more than 50% of teen girls, aged 16 or younger, who use tanning beds go to the tanning salon with their mothers. Skin cancer is incredibly common in the United States — about 1 in 5 Americans will get it at some point in their lives. And these statistics about family tanning bed outings really show that prevention starts at home.
During an appearance on the Today Show on Friday morning to discuss the statistics, Dr. Natalie Azar said awareness needs to start with teens.
“The points that the dermatologists are trying to hit home is really two-fold,” Dr. Azar said. “One is that we need to be doing a much better job of educating young women about this, and also to remember there’s a latency. If you lay out today, you’re not going to get skin cancer tomorrow. That skin cancer is going to come years down the pike.”
When asked about tips for young women regarding skin safety, Dr. Azar said “It’s about educating young people. When you have little ones, you’re doing it yourself. You’re slathering on [sunscreen]. Once your kids get to be the age when they can understand the risks, you need to be having this conversation with them.”
Protecting your skin from harmful rays, by practicing sun safety and avoiding tanning beds, is the best and most effective way to prevent skin cancer. What’s more, it relatively easy to do with a few lifestyle changes.
Here’s a simple breakdown of skin safety basics to keep in mind:
1. Use sunscreen, and use it often — During a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dana-Farber dermatologist Dr. Cecilia Larocca said that overtime, using sunscreen regularly can decrease a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 50%. So, even if you’re looking at this new study and worrying about your previous sun exposure or tanning bed use — you can’t take back previous exposure, but you can modify your risk going forward.
2. Make sure you’re using SPF 30 or higher — There are many tanning products out there, such as tanning oils or sprays, that carry SPFs of 8 or 15. Dermatologists warn that’s simply not enough. If you want real protection, SPF 30 is the minimum.
“The truth is that when you put on sunscreen, most of us don’t even put on enough sunscreen to actually get the true SPF that’s listed on the label,” Dr. Larocca said. “In general, we actually only put on 50% of what our SPF is. So if you put on a SPF 60, you’re likely to get an SPF 30 effect. Regardless, even with that information, we recommend a minimum of SPF 30.” Sunscreens should also be “broad spectrum” — so make sure you’re reading the labels.
3. Avoid the sun during peak hours — Sun rays are at their most dangerous between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So if you must be outside during these hours, or if you’re planning to hang out at the beach all day, make sure you’re keeping skin safety in mind. Sunscreen, large-brim hats, and sunglasses can all help keep you safe. Another thing to keep in mind if you’re planning on swimming or doing exercise that causes excessive sweat is the need to re-apply. With swimming or exercising, re-applying sunscreen every two hours should do it.
4. Stay out of tanning salons — Many people were led to believe that having a tan looks healthy. We’ve all heard the term “healthy glow” before. But that’s really not the case.
“We know that there is a direct correlation between patients who go to indoor tanning salons … and when you think about it, the UVA/UVB exposure that you get from a tanning salon is about 6 inches from the surface of your body compared to somebody who goes and tans on a beach and the sun is thousands of miles away,” Dr. Anna Pavlick, a dermatologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “So you have to think about the intensity that you’re exposing your skin to when you go to a tanning salon. And we know that there is an exponential increase in patients who develop melanomas who have been to tanning salons.”
If you are at risk for melanoma, you should be checked out by a dermatologist. But how do you know if you’re at risk? There are a number of factors to be aware of and these leading doctors lay it all out.