In the sun or in a bed, excessive UV exposure produces (un)healthy tan

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As summer draws near, a new survey from the American Academy of Dermatology reports that a striking number of young women tan despite the established health risks. The online survey of over 3,800 white, non-Hispanic females aged 14 to 22 found that 81 percent of these respondents “tanned outdoors frequently or occasionally in the part year,” while 32 percent of them had used a tanning bed in the past year. Twenty-five percent said they used one at least once weekly.

Also striking is the recent finding that indoor tanning salons are more prevalent than the ubiquitous Starbucks or McDonald’s; a survey of 116 U.S. cities found an average of 42 tanning salons per city, making year-round tanning a real option for the majority of U.S. women.

Unfortunately, such excessive exposure to UV radiation — whether from “natural” sunlight or from tanning salon beds — puts people at an increased risk for skin cancer. However, more young women appear to be listening not to their physicians but to the popular media that present being tan as a fashionable look. “It’s understandable that people crave what appears to be a healthy tan,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross, “but in fact, contrary to popular wisdom, a tan does not connote health. I’d advise everyone to avoid excessive UV exposure and, of course, to always use a sunblock with an appropriate SPF factor for UV blockage.”