FREEPORT – After 20 years of treating skin cancer in its various forms and flourishes, it is clear that tanning bed use is associated with the worst cancers and youngest cancer patients. In most cases they are women.

The issue is particularly important for Portland since the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found this city to have the second-highest density of tanning facilities in the whole northeast, more than Boston and New York.

With the burgeoning skin cancer epidemic and the increasing number of individuals seeking treatment for premature skin aging, it is important to illuminate the myths promoting the problem.

Myth No. 1: Everybody does it, so it can’t be bad.

Well, it is bad. Ultraviolet radiation from tanning bed use is inextricably linked to skin cancer, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma These cancers kill and maim every day. Ultraviolet radiation exposure from tanning beds before the age of 35 can increase one’s risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

Of the 1 million folks that tan each day, nearly three-quarters are white women aged 16-49. Among tanning teens, 77 percent plan to continue the behavior. It is clear our daughters are not being protected.

Myth No. 2: Tanning salons protect their clients.

The fact that they offer you eye protection and suggest radiation exposure limits doesn’t mean your health is their priority. Remember how well the tobacco industry protected us with filters and low-tar tobacco.

The tanning industry generates $5 billion a year and, like the tobacco industry, hires an adept assortment of lobbyists, lawyers and advertising firms to make its case before the public, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the courts and Congress. Its priority is your money.

Myth No. 3: The government will protect you.

The FDA is responsible to evaluate the risk potential of medical devices used in our health care system to establish and enforce standards for public safety. The more dangerous the device, such as X-ray machines, the more oversight.

For years, the FDA has listed tanning beds as Class I devices, implying they hold minimal risk for users. Other Class I items include Band-Aids, tongue depressors and bed pans. But when the FDA published indoor tanning standards, such as sessions-per-first-week exposure guidelines, less than 11 percent of tanning facilities were in compliance.

Myth No. 4: I can stop whenever I want.

Although true for some users, for others there is an addictive component. Research indicates that tanning releases a peptide (beta-endorphin) within the body that is an opiate molecule. The setting is similar to individuals addicted to narcotics. In fact, frequent tanners treated with a dose of a narcotic blocking medicine can exhibit opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Myth No. 5: Indoor tanning prevents osteoporosis.

Humans are unable to produce vitamin D without outside help — either from the sun, which facilitates a reaction in the body producing Vitamin D, or our diet. While vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, tanning is not.

A five-minute June walk around the block offers adequate sun exposure for vitamin D production. Any more increases the risk of skin DNA damage. An adequate vitamin D level is always attainable through a healthy diet and supplements.

Furthermore, Vitamin D production requires exposure to UV-B emissions. The newest indoor tanning devices emit primarily UV-A radiation, which does not promote vitamin D production.

Myth No. 6: Obtaining a base tan will prevent further sun damage.

This is the ultimate marketing ploy; you need a few weeks frying in a tanning bed to get ready to roast some more in Antigua. But the UV-A radiation is the part of the spectrum that gives a quick darkening of the skin but, ironically, provides an SPF of only 1 to 2.

Affluent tanners are duped to beat up their DNA in the snowbanks of Portland only to really hammer themselves in Barbados.

Myth No. 7: A tan is healthy.

Like a scar represents previous trauma to the skin, a tan simply indicates an injury has occurred. A tan is the skin’s response to damage inflicted by ultraviolet radiation by establishing a shield of dark pigment. A tan-loving culture guarantees prematurely aged skin and will consistently dance with cancer.

As a skin cancer surgeon, more importantly, as a dad of two daughters, a redhead and a blonde, I have had it with an industry that targets our girls to tears and potential death.


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