Catching rays is a dangerous idea

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

The TV weatherman said Saturday would be cloudy, not a good day to catch some rays at the beach. I couldn’t help but think to myself, it’s never a good day to catch some rays at the beach.

When is our society going to realize just how dangerous “catching rays” really is? How many news stories do we have to hear about 14 year olds getting melanoma before we begin to heed the warnings?

Don’t people realize that a tan is nothing but a sign of skin and possibly DNA damage?


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According to the Mayo Clinic, a suntan is the result of injury to the epidermis, the top layer of your skin. Sun exposure intense enough to cause a burn can also damage the DNA of skin cells. This damage sometimes leads to skin cancer.

Yes, the Big C. Scary no matter what kind it is.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The American Academy of Dermatology called it an “unrecognized epidemic”, with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in this country each year.

If the scary health effects don’t phase you, let’s be a little more superficial (after all, that’s why people tan anyway, right? Because they think it makes them look better?).

UV light can cause photoaging, or accelerated changes to the skin that make you appear older than you are. Results can include deep wrinkles, thinner skin, fine red veins on your face and shoulders, large brown lesions on your face, hands, arms, chest and upper back and more.

Bottom line, you’ll look bad an an earlier age thanks to all that time spent in the sun or under the bulbs of a tanning bed.

Now, I’m not completely innocent here. At 25, I already have some of those fine red veins and extra freckles. God knows I’m worried about what other ugly blemishes are going to appear after years of skin damage start to surface.

I have had three moles removed, two of which turned out to be atypical, meaning they were not cancerous, but had the potential to become so. I come from a mixed heritage, and unfortunately got more of my dad’s Irish skin than my mom’s Croatian complexion. I burn easily, but given enough time in the sun, can turn a medium shade of brown.

As a teenager, I would cook myself until I achieved that shade, even visiting tanning salons for special events such as prom, beach vacations and my wedding. The past couple of years I was aware of the dangers of tanning, and a running ticker of ‘skincancerskincancerskincancer’ would buzz through my head as I lay in those fake-n-bake coffins.

So I made my wedding the end of my sun worshipping. Ever since, I have religiously applied sun screen to my face, neck and chest every day. And when I go to the beach, I slather myself in SPF 45 and huddle under an umbrella.

My husband, on the other hand, works outside a lot, so his face, neck and arms stay tanned. In an effort to get rid of his T-shirt (the pale torso and shoulders created while he’s at work), he bakes all day at the beach with little or no sunscreen.

It makes me sick. He turns red and peels and just looks completely unhealthy. For the most part, I try not to be a nag, but this is one topic where I can’t help myself.

His thing is he doesn’t want to be two-toned. And he thinks he looks better tan. He even makes fun of me a little because I’m so pale. I have a solution for that: self tanner.

They are everywhere now, and each year they get better and better. No orangey color, no streaks (at least not when you get the hang of applying it), and best of all, no skin damage.

I’m not advocating closing down all those millions, probably billions, of tanning salons. I think they should get rid of the cancer coffins and replace them with the spray-tan booths. They could even offer personal spray-on tans like some fancy spas do where someone actually sprays your body, creating contours to make you look thinner and more toned as well as tanned.

If everyone started using spray-tans and self tanners, we’d all have that sort of golden look, and that would ease the pressure (especially on young women) to cook in the sun or tanning beds until they look like beef jerky.

In the meantime, I am impatiently waiting for our society to revert back to the days when fair skin was “in.”