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Health Team

Dermatologist: No tan is safe

Posted June 7, 2011 6:34 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2011 10:56 a.m. EDT

— Indoor tanning salons have marketed themselves as a safer alternative to lying out in the sun, but a Cary dermatologist says that no tan is safe. Indoors or outdoors, tanning can result in skin cancer.

Dr. Robert Clark said that the sun generates both UVA and UVB rays. The UVB rays are what cause most of the damage to the skin's DNA, which can lead to cancer. Tanning beds emit UVA radiation, which Clark said isn't necessarily safer.

"The amount of UVA that you can obtain from a tanning bed can be up to 15 times the radiation that you'd get from a similar type of exposure to the sun," Clark said.

He recommends to his patients that they use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, but preferably 50 or higher.

Diane Miller, a patient at Cary Skin Center, said she's been forced to spray tan to keep her skin's summer glow after she had about 100 lesions surgically removed from her arms, torso and legs. The lesions, she learned, were basal cell carcinomas, a form of skin cancer.

In her youth, Miller said, she spent a lot of time in tanning beds.

"I really wanted to be dark-complected," she said. "It was told to me that (a tanning bed) was safer than the sun, and now I'm paying the price because of tanning in a tanning bed."

Miller, 45, now limits her time in the sun and makes sunscreen a daily habit.

Clark said many of his patients are dealing with sun damage that was done years ago. He wants to get the message out to teens that tanning now could mean skin cancer later.

He recently addressed state lawmakers about the dangers of tanning as legislators consider a bill that would prohibit anyone under 18 from using tanning beds for cosmetic reasons.