That golden summer glow might seem attractive, but is it really worth increasing your risk for melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers?

The research is clear: Ninety percent of melanomas are estimated to be caused by ultraviolet exposure. This includes sunbathing and artificial exposure that comes from ultraviolet tanning beds. This cancer can appear in the form of tumors, lesions, moles and mucous membrane throughout the body.

“The cumulative ultraviolet radiation through your entire life determines your risk for skin cancer,” explained Ashley Wysong, MD, MS, assistant clinical professor of Dermatology and director of Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery at USC Dermatology at Keck Medicine of USC.

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types, and melanoma is the second most common cancer in women between the ages of 20-29 years old.

“Tumors that I once saw in older patients 60-80 years old I am now seeing in 20-year- and early 30-year-olds,” Dr. Wysong said. According to Dr. Wysong, the increase in melanoma cases can be linked to increase in sun exposure and the popularity of indoor tanning.

What are the dangers of indoor tanning?

Indoor tanning exposes you to ultraviolet radiation at high levels during a short timeframe. The desired outcome – the tanning of your skin – is actually caused by damaging skin cells.
Increased exposure to UV radiation increases your risk of skin cancer and other skin damage. This includes:

  • Premature aging, like dark spot and wrinkles
  • Eye damage that can lead to blindness
  • Change in skin texture

There is no such thing as minimal exposure. Using a tanning bed for even a short period of time increases your risk for melanoma by 79 percent – and the risk goes up with each use. The rise of young adults diagnosed with melanoma is linked to the popularity of tanning; research concludes that the risk of melanoma increases by 59 percent for people who start using tanning beds before age 35.

Government protection

Indoor tanning is so dangerous that local, state and federal governments are taking action to ban indoor tanning for people under the age of 18. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a goal to reduce the number of high school students who use UV light tanning to 14 percent by 2020.

Protect yourself

The most effective way to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to UV rays. Protect your skin by avoiding tanning beds, cover up when outside or stay in the shade, and wear at least a sunscreen of SPF 30.

There is no such thing as a safe tan.

By Heidi Tyline King

Interested in learning more about your cumulative exposure to UV rays? Imaging technology can highlight the UV damage on your skin that you can’t see with the naked eye. Learn more at the Department of Dermatology at Keck Medicine of USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, book an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visit Dermatology.keckmedicine.org