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The Dangers of Binge Tanning

Kristen Houghton

Saturday, March 22, 2014 • 3:57pm

 If you're familiar with the words "binge tanning", then you know that the term applies to anyone who crams in a lot of tanning before a big event, like the prom, a class reunion, a wedding or before leaving for a beach vacation. You don't want to look pale so you binge tan to give yourself that healthy glow. Except that 'healthy' glow is causing damage to your skin!

If you're not into the tanning beds, then you may think that it’s no big deal to fry yourself on vacation once a year in a binge tan. But according to Dr. Susan Swetter, a professor of dermatology at the Stanford Cancer Institute, any sporadic yet intense UV exposure, or binge tanning is, “an extreme assault to our DNA.” Binge tanning triggers harmful changes in cells that result in the most fatal form of skin cancer – melanoma. The more you tan the more the damage keeps accumulating. So, if you go on a once-a-year vacation to the Caribbean and stay in the sun for hours at a time, that increases your risk of skin cancer each and every time. Your risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer increases by nearly 75 percent just from that one week.

Lying in a tanning bed once-a-day, the week before a big event is just as dangerous – if not worse. That’s because they’re designed to get you tanned more quickly than the same amount of time in the sun. In fact, compared to the noonday sun, bulbs in tanning beds emit twelve times as many UVA rays, and twice as many UVB rays. The dangers of 'binge tanning' are so significant that sun-beds have been placed on the World Health Organization's list of the most cancer-causing substances and habits, alongside arsenic and asbestos. Does this tell us anything?

The dangers of tanning beds have long been underrated. Tanning salons play down the adverse affects of tanning beds and promote them as a healthy way to get your vitamin D intake. However, the UVA and UVB rays emitted in a tanning bed are far stronger than anything needed to get your daily intake of the vitamin. A study from the International Journal of Cancer found that using the tanning bed before age 35 boosted the risk of getting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent. If you're not worried about dying from this (and you should be because it can be prevented if you stop using them!), then think about this: Tanning beds prematurely age you. According to the FDA, in addition to the serious risk of skin cancer and premature aging, binge tanning can cause:

• Immune suppression. UV-B radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, leaving you more vulnerable to diseases, including skin cancer.

• Eye damage. Exposure to UV radiation can cause irreversible damage to the eyes.

• Allergic reaction. Some people who are especially sensitive to UV radiation may develop an itchy red rash and other adverse    effects.

Binge-tanning behavior is a big factor in the 800 percent increase in diagnoses of deadly melanoma over the last few decades. Equate binge tanning to that other dangerous but legal habit: smoking. If someone decided to smoke a carton of cigarettes at once – instead of just smoking a pack a day you wouldn’t be surprised if they had a lot of health problems. It's the same with binge tanning. As a survivor of skin cancer I urge everyone to be aware of the dangers inherent in binge tanning. I love the sun but I won't bake in it; there's no such thing as a 'healthy tan'.

© copyright 2014 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved 

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