Tanning: Golden Bod vs. Wrinkles and Death
Summer is approaching and with it comes the endless days at the beach, sitting in the bleachers watching kids play baseball, backyard barbecues and so much more. It’s also the time for me to hear one of my most despised phrases. It’s a phrase my 19-year old cousin recently posted on Facebook: “I need a tan.”
I responded, “You DO remember that your aunt (my mother) died of skin cancer, right? Well, if that’s not enough to deter you, how about this : tanning makes you look older; it increases your risk of wrinkles and age spots.” Guess which point made her reconsider tanning?
I feel like an old lady (at 31 years old) when the words, “I don’t understand kids,” escaped from my lips, but the truth is that I didn’t even understand them when I was a kid myself! While my friends were dashing to the nearest tanning salon for prom, I stood there lecturing and shoving facts in their faces. I had seen the damage. I had watched someone die. I thought they were all stupid, and I wasn’t afraid to tell them that. I wasn’t invited to many pool parties!
To be fair, it’s not just teenagers and young 20-somethings that put their health at risk in the quest for darker pigmentation. I know plenty of grown women who regularly lie in tanning beds which, contrary to what many people think, are not better for you than the sun.
The Skin Cancer Foundation tells us, “There is no such thing as a safe tan.” In the simplest of terms, tanned skin is damaged skin. Furthermore, the systems that our body has in place to repair that damage are not always successful. When this happens mutations in our cells’ DNA occur. These mutations, in turn and over time, can lead to the development of skin cancer.
What is it with this need to change our physical appearance despite the dangers? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists skin cancer as the most common form of cancer in the United States. That’s right, more common than lung cancer and breast cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed skin cancer, affecting nearly 2 million Americans every year. Melanoma is the most dangerous, accounting for the largest number of skin cancer deaths.
Skin cancer is more prevalent in those with lighter skin, but that does not mean those with dark skin are immune. In fact, of patients diagnosed with skin cancer, people of African descent have the highest mortality rate as their skin cancer is often diagnosed only after reaching an advanced stage. Case in point, Bob Marley died from malignant melanoma, a lethal skin cancer that originated beneath the nail of his big toe and was misdiagnosed as a soccer injury. Everyone needs to take care of their skin.
I have largely given up on trying to make people care about the health of their skin. It doesn’t work anymore than telling smokers what tobacco and nicotine are doing to their lungs. Instead, I do what I did with my cousin. I explain all of the superficial reasons not to tan. I talk about the girl I knew in college who tanned so much that her skin looked orange and at 21 she could easily be mistaken for 30+. I tell people about the 25 year old girl I knew who tanned so frequently that after suffering from a severe case of sun poisoning, she was told that she could die from any future sun exposure. That essentially meant she was condemned to a wearing parkas, instead of bikinis, at the beach. Those damaging rays that potentially mutate one’s DNA, they’re the same ones that cause the wrinkles, age spots and sagging skin.
Of course nobody is telling to you live like a vampire and to lock yourself away during all daylight hours. You do need a little bit of unprotected sun exposure in order to get enough vitamin D; 10 to 20 minutes a few times a week is sufficient for these purposes. Aside from that, there are several things you can do to protect your skin. Among them are trying to stay in the shade, especially between 10:00am and 4:00pm, using at least an SPF 15 sunscreen and reapplying as necessary and wearing wide brimmed hats and UV protective sunglasses. You should also check your skin, head to toe, monthly for any new spots or moles (or existing ones that have changed size or shape).
Protect your skin, your health, and your youthful appearance. Think twice about trying to change your pasty white skin, or if you cannot resist, consider a spray tan. Now, there are even spray tan salons available to help you out. Get the same “gorgeous” look without the risk for wrinkles, age spots and, oh yeah, death.
featured image: 3-b-s.eu