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Quest for tan could put your health at risk

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

04-23-08

Apr. 23--Dr. Stephen Webster always is concerned this time of the year when young women use indoor tanning beds so they can get a tan in time for prom.

The Gundersen Lutheran dermatologist said he tries to make people aware of the dangers of ultraviolet UV radiation from tanning beds and sun lamps. The two types of ultraviolet radiation are ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B. UVB long has been associated with sunburn, while UVA has been recognized as a deeper penetrating radiation that causes more damage, Webster said.

Webster said tanning beds expose people to UVA rays, which cause skin cancer and premature aging. The beds block UVB rays, the burning rays. UVA rays are just as harmful as UVB rays, but you don't see the damage right away, he said.

"There is this image that a tan is healthy, but it's really skin damage," Webster said.

Webster said young people often don't pay attention to the dangers of tanning, but they need to know that 80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18.

Webster and Dr. Michael White, a Franciscan Skemp dermatologist, said they're concerned about a national advertising campaign by the Indoor Tanning Association that claims the association between indoor tanning and melanoma is nothing but hype.

The British journal of dermatology attributed excess tanning outdoors and indoors to increased melanoma incidence, White said. People cannot assume that tanning beds are safe, he said.

"The UVA rays in tanning beds are damaging, and there is evidence to suggest melanoma," White said. "There is not much, or any, regulation of indoor tanning, and you don't know how much you're getting."

With an increased concern over vitamin D deficiency, some experts often recommend more sun exposure. More sun exposure is not better, White said, because the total amount of sun exposure needed to get enough vitamin D is 15 minutes a day.

"If you're not getting enough vitamin D in that time and you have a vitamin D deficiency, you should have vitamin D supplementation," White said.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE SUN

--Stay away from the midday sun and its intense rays. Schedule play times and outdoor activities before 9 a.m. and after 3 p.m. The sun's energy is greatest when it travels through less atmosphere at midday.

--Avoid long periods of direct sun exposure. Sit or play in the shade, especially when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.

--Avoid sunburn. Be aware of the length of time you are in the sun. It may take only 15 minutes of midday summer sun to burn a fair-skinned person.

--Block sun damage by applying a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen lotion, gel or sunstick with a SPF 30 or higher, and reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days. Choose a sunscreen that is waterproof or water resistant. Apply as much sunscreen as you would lotion for dry skin. Spread it evenly over all uncovered skin, including ears and lips, but avoiding eyelids. Apply sunscreen about 45 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.

--Cover up with a hat and light-colored clothing when outdoors. Don't play or work outdoors without a shirt. Put on a shirt and hat after swimming, or wear a T-shirt while swimming. In addition to filtering out the sun, tightly woven clothing reflects heat and helps keep you feeling cool. Sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays protect the eyes and eyelids.

(Source: American Academy of Dermatology)

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