Above: Image © LUNAMARINA, iStockphoto.com

The Canadian Paediatric Society recently said that people under 18 should be banned from using tanning beds. The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dermatology Association, and the World Health Organization all think the same thing. But, why might this be?

Did You Know?
It is said that 25 percent of young Canadians between the ages of 13 and 19 have visited a tanning salon at some point.

First, let’s look at how tanning beds work. Tanning beds produce ultraviolet or UV light–the same kind that is produced by the sun. When your skin is exposed to UV light, it produces a dark pigment called melanin, and this is why your skin gets darker. Melanin is kind of a natural sunscreen: the more of it you have, the less likely you are to get a sunburn. This is why people with pale skin tend to get sunburns more easily than people with naturally darker skin!

Did You Know?
Melanin, the pigment produced by skin after exposure to UV, protects skin by converting 99.9 percent of UV light’s energy to harmless heat.

The problem is that when UV causes these changes in the skin (melanin production, and if you get too much UV, a sunburn) it can damage the skin cells’ DNA. DNA is the 'instruction manual' that tells cells what to do. So when it’s damaged, 'mistakes' in these instructions can be made, and the cells can behave in ways they shouldn't. For example, if a cell starts growing and dividing when it shouldn't, this may eventually lead to cancer. If this cancer happens in one of the melanin-producing cells it is called melanoma. This is the most dangerous of all skin cancers! Most tanning beds produce UV light of longer wavelength (320-400 nm) known as UVA rays and these rays may increase melanoma risk.

Did You Know?
In 2009 the Canadian Medical Association estimated that 75,100 Canadians were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer and 5,000 with melanoma. Of those, 940 died.

The Canadian Dermatology Association reports there is a two to three times higher lifetime risk of getting skin cancer for Canadians born in the 1990s compared to those born in the 1960s. As well, the Canadian Medical Association has found that the risk of melanoma increases 75 percent when people use tanning beds before the age of 30. Given the evidence for increased cancer risk in young people, these and other medical groups are advocating a ban on the use of tanning beds for anyone under the age of 18.

Maybe you now have something to think about before using a tanning bed to obtain that “sunkissed” look. Is it really worth it?

References

Canadian Dermatology Association – Indoor Tanning http://www.dermatology.ca/programs-resources/programs/sap/indoor-tanning/ Canadian Paediatric Association - Banning children and youth younger than 18 years of age from commercial tanning facilities (Position statement) http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/tanning-facilities Bill 30, Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds), 2013 (Ontario) http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/committee-proceedings/committee_transcripts_details.do?locale=en&Date=2013-09-18&ParlCommID=8958&BillID=2748&Business=&DocumentID=27171 Tanning bed ban urged for under-18s (CBC News, posted Feb. 3, 2012) http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/02/03/tanning-bed-ban.html

Derek van Pel

I am working on a Ph.D in Molecular Biology at the University of British Columbia, where my research is aimed at finding new anti-cancer therapeutics that can target weaknesses specific to tumour cells. I am an avid science educator, and when I'm not in the lab, writing for CurioCity, or volunteering with Let's Talk Science, I can be found teaching a 3rd year undergraduate biochemistry lab!

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