There are 'no healthy tans'
Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
Beach season is here, which to many people, also means recreational tanning. But experts nationwide have recently amped up words of caution about protecting yourself in the sun.
The FDA last month proposed legislation reclassifying tanning beds and sunlamps as "moderate" risk instead of "low," along with stronger warning labels that people under age 18 should not use them.
In December, the agency passed new regulations on sunscreens that bar them from claiming to be "waterproof" or "sweatproof." The new rules also require sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum to protect against both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays — both of which are implicated in skin cancer risk.
Some local experts back the FDA's conclusions, sounding their own words of caution about tanning in the Sunshine State.
"There is no such thing as a healthy tan," said Dr. Eric Parlette, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Florida College of Medicine and a dermatologist at UF Dermatology at Springhill.
Parlette explained that darkened skin means that the UV rays have damaged the DNA in skin cells. Sun exposure can also cause premature wrinkling, and uneven pigmentation by stimulating pigment cells.
"Freckles are all sun damage," Parlette continued. "People think babies are born with them," but that's not true, he said.
Skin cancer on the rise
The biggest risk of being in the sun is skin cancer. One in five Americans will get some form of skin cancer, which is the most prevalent cancer in the world, Parlette said.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and people in their 20s are routinely diagnosed each week at the Springhill Clinic, according to dermatology department chairman Dr. Vladimir Vincek.
"When I was in medical school, to diagnose someone below age 50 (with melanoma) was like ‘wow,' " said Vincek, who is 52. "These days, we see melanoma once a month in teens."
Parlette added that skin cancers are the most prevalent type of cancer in people between ages 24 and 29.
Vincek attributes the rise in skin cancer incidence to lifestyle, with more and more people going to tanning salons and beaches at younger ages. Women comprise most of the clinic's patients under age 40, and men over age 50.
Legislative efforts nationwide have stepped in to regulate indoor tanning among teenagers and children. In Florida, parents must accompany kids age 14 and under who go to use tanning beds, and teens between age 14 and 18 must wear eye protection, according to the national conference of state legislatures.
Parlette said that tanning beds are especially risky because of the absence of natural filters from UV rays such as clouds and dust particles.
People still use tanning beds
That message doesn't seem to stop people from regularly going to tanning beds, however. At Tan USA in Gainesville, an employee who didn't want to be identified said they get a steady stream of customers, from students to university sports teams and adults.
"I think you get just as much damage out in the sun," the employee said, adding that using indoor tanning beds in moderation — once a week for 20 minutes — and wearing protective eyewear is enough to get a base tan, and feel healthy doing it.
"The Vitamin D that you get ... you do feel better," she said. "It is relaxing, and for me, it clears up my headache.
"Some people just like to come in and take that 20-minute nap."
Tracy Yerby, a client at Tan USA, said she has been using tanning beds since she was 17. Now 39, she said, "I enjoy it. It's relaxing and helps clear up my skin, because my skin doesn't like Florida weather."
Yerby added that she always covers her face up halfway through her session — both because the face has delicate skin, and to prevent any aging effects related to UV exposure.
Parlette said that people in their 30s start to think about wrinkles and other aging-related skin changes that sun exposure quickens, and they will then start avoiding the sun or tanning beds, or at least ramp up their use of sunscreen
A recent study showed that regular application of sunscreen in people under age 50 can have anti-aging effects on skin.
A UV-free alternative to tanning are spray tans, which Tan USA and other Gainesville salons offer. Mandi Nazaro opened Golden Gator Spray Tanning in 2007 to fill a need in Gainesville for healthy tanning options, she said.
Spray tanning emerged when Nazaro was a high school student in Tampa and had family experiences with skin cancer. "My godfather had a huge cancerous mass removed from his face. It was pretty traumatizing," Nazaro said. "So I was really turned onto the idea of spray tanning."
Nazaro said the 20-minute, $30 sessions will give people a tan that lasts about seven days. Nazaro said she has many repeat customers, from sorority girls to professionals in town.
But summer is ultimately about being outdoors, often at the beach or pool, especially for kids. Mike Glendinning, an after-school counselor at O2BKids!, takes kids to the pool once a week for a couple of hours.
"A lot of parents will bring in SPF 100 and say, ‘I want my kids to wear this,' " Glendinning said at the Dwight H. Hunter Pool in Gainesville last week. "If they want to get in the pool, they have to wear something. We explain to them that the sun can have consequences that are far worse than a sunburn."
That message has been drilled into Lance Reccoppe, 17, who is on the Gainesville High School swim team and swims for a few hours a day.
"I went to a dermatologist once and had sunspots. After that, I started using sunscreen," Reccoppe said.
He added that he became extra cautious after his father was diagnosed with a form of pre-skin cancer. Swimmers and other athletes may be used to regularly slapping on sunscreen, but for regular beach-goers, Parlette says, "The message is go to the beach and enjoy life, but be wise: wear a hat and sunscreen."
How to protect yourself in the sun
-Even if you are not sitting out in the sun, wear moisturizers that have sunscreen in them; men should also wear aftershave with sunscreen.
-Avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. because that's when UV rays are most intense.
-Get checked for any changes in moles or spots on skin by a dermatologist once a year.
-Put sunscreen on 15 minutes before you go out into the sun, and every two hours after that; and more frequently if it runs off in the water or in your sweat. Wear it even on overcast days because 80 percent of UV rays get through the clouds.
-Make sure the sunscreen is SPF 15 or above and labeled "broad spectrum."
-Wear hats and wear sunglasses with 99-100 percent UV ray protection.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.