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Tanning Myths: What's True, What's Hype?

Before you head out to the beach or indoors to tan, test your tanning savvy.

True or False? Indoor Tanning Doesn't Cause Melanoma continued...

Fisher points to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer in March 2007 that reviewed 19 published studies on the association of tanning beds and skin cancers. They found use of the tanning beds before age 35 boosted the risk of melanoma by 75%.

As for Overstreet's contention that most melanoma is associated with a family history, not so, says Fisher. "The vast majority are what we call sporadic melanomas."

"Most of the remaining risk factors [besides hereditary] are related to UV exposure," he says, such as being fair-skinned, not tanning easily, being a redhead who freckles easily, and having a history of blistering childhood sunburns.

True or False? Outdoor Tanning Causes Skin Cancer

True. The tanning industry's focus on melanoma only is misleading, says Fisher, noting that the link between non-melanoma skin cancer and UV exposure is solid.

Multiple studies have demonstrated a relationship between UV exposure and an increased risk of developing skin cancer, according to a report published in the May 2008 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, although the specifics of the association are different for melanoma and the non-melanoma skin cancers, squamous cell and basal cell.

True or False? You Need Sunlight to Get Enough Vitamin D

False. No one's disputing that exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," or that vitamin D isn't important. A spate of recent studies has found that adequate levels of vitamin D may lead to improved heart health and protect from breast cancer, among other long-known benefits such as bone health.

"I have no argument on the potential benefit of vitamin D," Fisher says.

Limited exposure to natural sun -- exposing skin to about 2 to 10 minutes a day without sunscreen -- is recommended by some experts as a way to produce enough vitamin D, but Fisher and others don't agree that's best. "There is no need to get your vitamin D from UV radiation," Fisher says. "You can get it from a pill." Many foods are also fortified with vitamin D such as milk.

Brandith Irwin, MD, a Seattle dermatologist and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology, agrees. "It's easy to supplement without tanning," Irwin says. Even with sunscreen on, she says, you may produce some vitamin D. "No sunscreen blocks all UV rays."

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