Tanning takes its toll

Self-tanning lotions are a good alternative to the unsafe tan you get in a tanning bed or from the sun.

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In the weeks preceding high school proms and spring breaks, many teens head to tanning salons. They’re seeking a healthy glow, but they’re getting an unhealthy dose of ultraviolet light, one that could cast a deadly shadow later in life.

Just one 15- to 30-minute session of exposure to the ultraviolet radiation in a tanning booth is equivalent to a day at the beach in the summer’s sun. That, says the American Academy of Dermatology, makes using a tanning bed one of the worst things you can do to your skin.

Tanning with ultraviolet bulbs increases the risks of the following:

  • wrinkles and premature aging of the skin
  • skin cancer, especially the deadly form called melanoma
  • vision problems
  • immune system disorders

Pediatric dermatologist Judith Williams says there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. “A tan is a sign of skin damage caused by UV exposure. When your body senses dangerous levels of UV radiation, it produces the brown pigment melanin as a protective response,” she said. “But the damage is done before the skin responds by changing color, and by then it’s too late.”

Self-tanning lotions are a good alternative to the unsafe tan you get in a tanning bed or from the sun. “Self-tanning lotions are safe because the change in skin color comes from a harmless chemical that reacts with compounds in the skin to produce brown pigments,” Dr. Williams said. These self-tanning pigments may not be protective against UV damage, so a sunscreen is still necessary before going out in the sun. Artificial tans last for about five days before wearing off. With a bottle tan, your child will look great at the prom without endangering her future health and well-being.

Dr. Williams, a pediatric dermatologist, practices with Children’s Specialty Group PLLC at CHKD.