Friday, May 25, 2012

Sunburns and Tanning Beds Cause Cancer - Oh My!

With today’s topic being sunburns, I can’t tell you how tempted I am to post a bunch of gross pictures of skin rashes. But I won’t. Simply put,

This is your skin…

This is your skin after sunburn.


As I said in Wednesday's post about suntans, sunburns are caused by ultraviolet radiation. These UV rays break down the DNA in our cells, causing them to die. But, if the cell does not die, it has the chance of mutating into a cell that will later produce a tumor. Or worse, it can be the seed of skin cancer.

If a lot of cells are damaged, we get the all-too-familiar rash. Sunburn is the mass-destruction of our body's cells.

I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this has been sunburned at least once in their lives. You know what the symptoms are: red skin that is hot to the touch, swelling, pain, blisters and the need for a nap. The outbursts of profanity are not a sign of acute Tourette Syndrome, rather, it just sucks finding out that you’re stuck with a burn for the next week.

And then it begins… The peeling

Tanning Beds and Cancer

The sun is our planet's primary source of UV rays. This leads many people to think that tanning beds are a safe alternative to sunbathing because you’re getting tanned from a light bulb instead of a giant ball of thermonuclear gas.

But they’re wrong. Tanning beds are more cancerous than sunbathing, in most cases. The ultraviolet light produced by in a bed can be 10 to 15 times stronger than the noon day sun.

The WHO reports that people who started using tanning beds before the age of 30 were 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. (And by the WHO, I mean the World Health Organization, not the British rock band.) What’s more, about a third of white women, ages 18 – 25, have used indoor tanning before.

This is why Michigan, among other states, has laws in place to prevent minors from using tanning salons without adult supervision. Not to mention that business with Tanning Mom

So what can you do to prevent sunburn?


The easiest way to avoid sunburn? Don’t go outside. Ever. But seeing as this is nearly impossible, instead of avoiding sunlight like an agoraphobic vampire, just take some simple steps to protect yourself if you know you’ll be in the sun for a while.

Everyone is different (obviously.) Some people can stay out in the sun for three hours and not burn. Others are lucky if they can stand in direct sunlight for 15 minutes before turning into a tomato. Sunscreen was developed to work as a second layer of protection to lengthen the amount of time we could spend outside. SPF, sun protection factor, is a ratio of the amount of light it takes to burn someone wearing sunscreen divided by the amount of light it takes to burn that same person without it.

Wait, what? What does that mean?

That means that the SPF multiplies the amount of time you can stay outside. For our tomato-y friend who can go only 15 minutes without protection, if he applied SPF 30 to his skin, he could enjoy the beach for seven and a half hours (15 * 30 = 450 minutes, or 7.5 hours.)

Covering yourself up is another way to avoid sunburn, but walking around in a turtleneck on an 85 degree day would be unfashionable. Also, you’d probably pass out from heat exhaustion. Instead of adding layers, find shade regularly, or make your own. Wide-brimmed hats are my preference for avoiding burns to the face and neck, but I think it’s high time we brought back parasols.

Oh, and don’t think that the clouds will protect you. It’s not the heat of the sun that burns you, it’s the UV rays, and 90% of them make it through clouds.

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