The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 20, 2014

Shedding light on tanning dangers of tanning

Why it matters: The most recent student survey points to a high number of teen girls who do tanning, which is tied to increasing numbers of melanoma cases.

Really, there is no excuse. It’s not like the jury is still out on whether tanning really causes damage.

Most doctors — including those who are aware ultraviolet light is a source of vitamin D, but not the only one — condemn tanning for its skin cancer risks.

But you would think from the recent release of high school survey results that word hasn’t gotten out, or more likely, that teens don’t measure risk realistically. (And yes, brains keep developing in teens and young adults in their early 20s.)

This is the first year that tanning bed usage by teens was included in the Minnesota Student Survey. And the results are not promising for our young women. About 33 percent of white 11th-grade Minnesota girls have tanned indoors in the past year, according to the state survey, and more than half of them used sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths at least 10 times in a recent 12-month period.

Locally, the results are no better. In Blue Earth County 36 percent of 11th-grade girls used tanning beds during the year, 11 percent of them 10-19 times and 5 percent more than 40 times. In Nicollet County 26 percent used tanning beds and 10 percent did so 10-19 times annually. (Among white 11th-grade boys in Minnesota, only one in 20 used a tanning bed at any time in the past year, according to the student survey data.)

What makes tanning a burning issue when it comes to young women’s health? One-word answer: melanoma.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently reported the melanoma risk in women younger than 40 is now eight times greater than it was in the 1970s; with the growth in tanning salons, the risk in women ages 40 to 60 is now 24 times greater.

The consequences of tanning should be worrisome to adults whose teens use tanning beds or spend large amounts of time in the sun without applying sunscreen. Skin cancer can be caught and treated early, but when it’s not, melanoma is one of the most deadly cancers, health experts say. The state health department says the number of white women age 20-49 diagnosed with melanoma grows by 5 percent yearly; and indoor tanning before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent.

If teens are going to ignore the information, their parents need to do their jobs. In Minnesota, in-person parental permission is needed for anyone younger than 16 to use a commercially operated tanning bed.

A local dermatologist had a good suggestion for those who don’t want to give up the tan look: Just say spray.

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