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Cancer Health Center

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Teen Tanning Habits Raise Skin Cancer Risks

Tanning, Skin Cancer Myths Debunked by Dermatologists

Teens and Tanning continued...

The ADD recently issued a new position statement on indoor tanning, encouraging states to ban the use of tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes. The organization also advocates enacting legislation to bar minors from using tanning devices and placing a Surgeon General's warning stating that UV radiation is a known carcinogen on all tanning devices.

Spencer says recent attempts to market tanning beds as safer than sun are "nonsense."

He says early tanning beds were equipped with light bulbs that emitted less of the UVB rays associated with sunburns and more UVA rays than natural sunlight. But newer bulbs contain the same amount of burning UVB rays and up to 15 times higher concentrations of aging UVA rays.

Sunscreen 101

Researchers say sunscreens are the most common form of sun protection, but many people are confused about how to use them correctly. Sunscreen is formulated to boost the body's natural defenses against harmful ultraviolet radiation by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's rays on the skin.

The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to cause sunburn on unprotected skin. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would allows someone to extend that burning time by 15, so it would take 15 times longer for the skin to become burned if the product is used correctly.

But the SPF only reflects the product's protection against the burning UVB rays and doesn't say anything about the protection it provides against the aging UVA rays.

"The only way you can tell if a product provides UVA protection is it will be labeled as broad spectrum," says sunscreen expert Zoe Draelos, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The AAD recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 for basic, year-round protection. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 provides protection against about 93% of the sun's burning UVB rays.

Draelos says reaching for a higher SPF doesn't necessarily provide significantly more protection and may be much more uncomfortable to wear. To increase the SPF beyond 15, additional active ingredients are needed that often cause the sunscreen to become sticky or pasty, which may make people less likely to use them properly.

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