On Call: Health Advice from UC San Diego Health Experts | San Miguel de Allende | Atención San Miguel
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On Call: Health Advice from UC San Diego Health Experts

By Lawrence Friedman

Ban the Tan: 10 Facts to Know

Bronzed bodies, kissed by the sun, have long symbolized good health. But truth be told, there’s no safe way to get a tan. Tanned skin is damaged skin, and perhaps a harbinger of cancer to come. So protect yourself with a high SPF sunscreen and these facts on cancer-prevention.

1)         There are two types of common ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB. UVA rays from the sun penetrate the top layers of skin and are mainly responsible for sunburns. UVB rays penetrate deeper and are associated with allergic reactions, such as a rash. Both damage the skin and both can lead to cancer.

2)         There’s also UVC, short-wavelength radiation that’s largely filtered out by the atmosphere. UVC can cause redness and skin irritation, but it’s not known if it can cause skin cancer.

3)         Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer. There are three basic types of skin cancer. Basal cell is the most common, followed by squamous cell and melanoma.

4)         When checking your moles, know that melanomas do not have to be brown. They can be pink, purple, red, skin-colored, brown, flat, raised, smooth, rough, smaller than a pencil eraser, or larger. All suspect body markings should be checked immediately.

5)         The number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking. A base tan does not provide protection from skin damage. In fact, people who base tan are more likely to report getting sunburned.

6)         Sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 100 does not block out 100 percent of cancer-causing rays. Applied correctly, it provides 98 percent protection. A broad spectrum SPF 30 provides 95 percent.

7)         In the United States, facial skin cancers and wrinkling occur more often on the left side because of the position we drive in. UV light penetrates windows, even on cloudy days.

8)         Indoor tanning is not safer than tanning in the sun. Tanning beds emit four times the UVA radiation and two times the UVB radiation of the midday summer sun. High-speed sunlamps boost a UVA dose six times, and high-pressure sunlamps are 12 times more radiant than the sun.

9)         Radiation from just ten indoor tanning sessions over two weeks can suppress a person’s cancer-fighting immune system. More than 419,000 diagnosed cases of skin cancer each year can be attributed to indoor tanning.

10)       Sunless tanning pills contain the color additive canthaxanthin, which, in large amounts, can turn a person’s skin orange; cause hives, liver damage and impaired vision.


Lawrence Friedman, MD, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, UC San Diego Health. For questions, comments, or topic suggestions, please contact +1 619 471 0234 or patientsintl@ucsd.edu.


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