No, Virginia, a tan is not healthy!

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890213_67419660In spite of repeated warnings, many Americans run the risk of the potentially lethal skin cancer, melanoma, by insisting on acquiring a tan either from the sun or from indoor tanning beds. According to a call to action by acting Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak, over 63,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, and 9,000 people die from it.

While melanoma typically begins on the skin, it can quickly spread to internal organs; when this occurs, cure is highly unlikely. Caught in its early stages, surgical removal can be life-saving (there are no effective chemotherapy agents). What is particularly perturbing is that the rate of melanoma has increased by over 200 percent between 1973 and 2011, and it is the most common form of cancer in adults aged 25 to 29.

The CDC advises that people reduce their risk of all forms of skin cancer by using broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF rating of at least 15, and by avoiding sun exposure when the sun is most intense typically between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. More details may be found in ACSH s Summer Tips publication, which can be accessed here.

On an important related note, the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation this week to streamline the FDA s approval process for new sunscreen ingredients. According to an article in the National Journal, this legislation would require final decisions on pending applications within one year, and decisions on new applications within one and a half. Apparently other countries sunscreens are more effective than ours because they use better ingredients many of which have been awaiting FDA approval since the 1990s.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava had this to say: Let s hope this new legislation will help expedite more effective sunscreen ingredients reaching consumers. But we must remember that no matter how effective the ingredients may be, they won t work unless they are used properly and frequently. This is another case in which consumers behavior is the real key to preserving health.