The Risks of Tanning Beds
- A 34-year-old Scottish mother was recently diagnosed with melanoma, and she admits she has spent time in the tanning beds.
- A new or changing mole can be a symptom of melanoma. Often times these spots on our skin are harmless, but it’s still important to talk with your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
- Tanning beds are dangerous because they expose you to the same harmful UVA/UVB rays you get from the sun, but in the bed these rays reach you from only 6-8 inches away. Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer.
Sadly, this is not Nicola Rudge’s first experience with the cancer.Read More
Rudge’s mother died of a brain tumor 11 years ago caused my melanoma. Rudge’s father died last year of bladder cancer. The 34-year-old from Inverclyde, Scotland, admits that she continued to occasionally use a tanning bed or sit under the sun without sunscreen in the hopes of achieving that “lovely brown colour which I never did quite get” despite her family’s warnings.
“If only I could have a really stern word with my twenty something self!” Rudge wrote.
Around Christmas, Rudge noticed the first sign of potential melanoma when she felt a spot that used to be a freckle through her leggings. She also noticed that the spot had turned a darker color and knew she needed to see her doctor.
“They decided to refer me citing it didn’t look suspicious but because of what had happened to my mum it merited a referral,” she wrote. “Along comes my dermatology appointment where I’m advised to get it biopsied. Of course I agree, get my procedure and after a tense 3 week wait I’m called in immediately.”
Rudge was diagnosed with stage 1b melanoma. Her doctors suggested another wider excision and a lymph node biopsy to make sure they removed all of the cancer and confirm that it had not spread. She underwent this procedure and had another spot on her upper arm removed just in case.
Now she’s anxiously awaiting results to see if there is more treatment needed. A new mom to a baby named Finlay, Rudge is thinking about the possible implications of a lengthier cancer journey.
“Getting it done was a no-brainer, especially because of Finlay,” she told The Sun. “I want to know, I want to secure his future and I want to see him grow up.”
Her doctor estimated that there was a 90 percent chance she was in the clear, but the reality of the situation is that there is always a chance things do not go as planned. After her experience, she’s trying to inform more people about melanoma by sharing her story. She also says she’ll be rocking a fake tan from now on.
“Melanoma is dangerous, it’s scary and it’s real. It can affect any age, any gender at any time. It doesn’t discriminate,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m definitely not here to preach, everyone is in control of their own actions and I absolutely don’t judge. I just know how vigilant I will be from now on, how careful I’m gonna be in the sun and mindful of my own body, freckles, moles and all. This was not hereditary for me either, I’m told it was just a very awful coincidence that both myself and my mum had this… I wouldn’t want anyone to go through this especially when it’s so preventable in the first place.”
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. But melanoma causes the cells to change in a way that makes them able to spread to other organs.
Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to keep an eye out for melanoma. Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts. Often times these spots on our skin are harmless, but it’s still important to keep an eye on them and reach out to your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:
- Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
- Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
- Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
- Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
- Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”
The Dangers of Tanning Beds
Applying sunscreen, wearing hats and rocking some sunglasses are all ways to protect yourself from harmful UVA/UVB rays reaching us from the sun thousands of miles away. But when you hop into a tanning bed, you are exposing yourself to the very same rays from only 6-8 inches away. So, even if the temptation of achieving that summer “glow” seems irresistible, you should note that health experts warn against using tanning beds.
“Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer,” says Dr. Lynn A. Cornelius, chief of the division of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It also induces changes that lead to premature aging of the skin. There is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
Dr. Anna Pavlick from the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health echoed Dr. Cornelius’ statements by explaining that tanning beds increase your chances of melanoma “exponentially.”
“We know there is a direct correlation with [melanoma] patients who go to indoor tanning salons,” Dr. Pavlick tells SurvivorNet, who notes that the exposure “is about 6 inches from your body.”
The sun is millions of miles away when you’re on a beach, “so you have to think of the intensity that you’re exposing your skin to when you go to a tanning salon,” she says.
Alternatives to Tanning Beds
If achieving the perfect tan is very important to you, there are other options to try instead of the UV-blasting tanning beds or prolonged sun exposure. Temporary options like spray tans and self-tanning lotions are thought to be far better alternatives.
“Spray tans and sunless tanning lotions are safe,” Dr. Cornelius says. “One should take precautions not to inhale the product when getting a spray tan. Skin allergic reactions are rare.”
Spray tans are a much safer alternative to tanning beds, but Dr. Craig Elmets, professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, says that not much is known about the side effects of spray tans.
“They even have a very mild sunscreen effect,” he says, adding that applying sunblock is still recommended when going outdoors. “Not a lot is known about the side effects, but there is very limited absorption and they have been available for decades without any reports of serious side effects, which is reassuring.”
Self-tanning pills are another option for people seeking a golden glow, but tanning pills are not FDA-approved or endorsed by dermatologists. Dr. Elmets notes that they have also been associated with allergic reactions and systemic side effects.