Doctors say pale is the new tan

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It’s spring break for many, high school prom season, and Kentucky Derby festivities are just around the corner.

In an effort to maintain a sun-kissed look, many teens will start using tanning beds.

“A considerable problem with that is many people, especially young people, turn to tanning beds in order to accomplish what they think is a ‘healthy glow,'” Dr. Joseph Flynn, physician-in-chief of Norton Cancer Institute, said. “There is nothing healthy about this.”

It’s easy for teens and young adults to fall into the beauty trap of tanning beds.

“Young women who use tanning beds before age 30 can have a six-fold increase in the risk of developing skin cancer,” Flynn said. “The risk can increase with each tanning bed exposure and result in almost half a million skin cancer cases in the United States.”

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just one indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning session increases the chance of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk by almost another 2 percent. If those tanners are under age 35, the risk for melanoma increases by nearly 75 percent. While exposure to UV light is fairly consistent across age groups, research indicates that high-risk exposure happens more commonly in teens.

So what’s the alternative?

Spending time in the sun does offer some benefits – vitamin D, fresh air and a boost in motivation to exercise – as long as you follow a few sun safety practices. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wear a hat and appropriate clothing that covers your skin, and avoid direct sunlight during peak hours, usually in the early afternoon. But even wearing sunscreen does not guarantee a person will never get skin cancer.

The most effective thing you can do to help avoid melanoma, basil cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer is to change the “beauty factor.”

Help teens let go of the idea that fair (pale) skin means unhealthy, and that they need to be tan to be attractive. Many teens don’t realize how severe skin cancer can be. It could mean chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, drug treatments or all of the above.