Leading dermatologist dispels myths, says teens need better protection to avoid cancer

New York, NY, November 2008 – Of the approximately 1.3 million Americans who will learn they have melanomas or other skin cancers this year a growing percentage will be young people. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is now the most common cancer among Americans aged 25 to 29, and it is the Number One cause of cancer death among 15 to 20 year olds. Melanoma is linked to too much exposure to the sun in the first 10 to 19 years of life, a period during which according to some reports almost 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposures occurs. Despite skin cancer’s devastating effects on teenagers and the many health risks faced by teens seeking the perfect tan, young sun worshippers continue to soak in the sun’s dangerous rays at an alarming rate.

Study after study has shown that teens ignore the warnings in their quest to “look good.” In the recent American Academy of Dermatology Sun Exposure Teen Study, 63 percent of teens said they look better when they’re tan and 43 percent of teens admit they lay out in the sun, while less than one-third say they always use sun block. Nearly the same percentage say they never use sun block. Joshua Fox, MD, a leading dermatologist and founder of Advanced Dermatology, P.C., warns that teens are at a greater risk and seeks to dispel some of the myths that sun-seeking teens believe, including:

1. Skin cancer is only for older people. In fact, says Dr. Fox, “while melanoma usually develops many years after a person’s excessive sun exposure as a child, we are finding it with alarming increased frequency in kids. For example, just last week I had an eighteen year old boy, who liked outdoor sports, diagnosed with an invasive melanoma. Research shows that many forms of skin cancer start as a result of over-exposure to the sun during childhood. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence may more than double a person’s chances of developing a melanoma later in life.”

2. Tans make you look healthy. Dr. Fox says, “There is no such thing as a healthy tan and asserts that tans do just the opposite.” “Both sunburns and suntans compromise skin cell DNA and cause changes that over time age the skin, giving it a wrinkled, leathery appearance with enlarged pores and cause brown liver spots and white and yellow splotches. But if you are partial to the appearance of having the “color of a tan” try applying a self-tanner which can last for several days. Dr. Fox warns that this does NOT protect the skin from the sun’s exposure.

3. Tanning salons are safer than the sun. While the indoor tanning industry tells kids that tanning beds and sun lamps are safer than lying on the beach in the hot sun, “ongoing use of indoor tanning can be quite dangerous,” Dr. Fox says. “It can increase the risk of developing malignant melanoma by more than 55 percent, and it could nearly double the chances of several other types of skin cancers.” Most sun lamps and tanning beds emit mainly UVA radiation. While these rays don’t necessarily cause sunburn as quickly as does UVB radiation from sunlight, that does not make them safe. “UVA rays actually cause deeper skin damage, and like UVB rays, they also may be linked to immune system damage, premature skin aging and skin cancer promotion,” Dr. Fox says, citing a report of the American Academy of Dermatology. “UVA is a carcinogen, and studies have shown that tanning salons frequently exceed ‘safe’ UV limits, with the rays emitted in aStudy after study tanning parlor being up to 15 times that of the sun.”

4. Sunburn is worse than a tan. “Both are dangerous,” says Dr. Fox, “because both cause DNA damage to the skin cells. While sunburn has been directly linked to skin cancermelanoma, tans also are dangerous because they cause slower damage to the skin, so teens may not realize that they are causing harm.” Most teens realize that a sunburn is bad for you.

5. Sunscreen is only for the beach. “Teenagers at the beach on a hot summer’s day are not the only ones at risk,” says Dr. Fox. “Sun damage occurs anywhere, any time your skin is exposed to sunlight, during all four seasons, whether at the beach or park, on a boat, a ski mountain or golf course. Kids must use sunscreen every time they are outdoors in the sun – even on cloudy days.”

6. Tans are healthy. Many people associate a suntan with good health and vitality. “While Vitamin D is necessary to the body and may help prevent certain cancers,” Dr. Fox says, “just a small amount of sunlight is needed for the body to manufacture it, far less than the amount that creates a suntan and sunburn. Actually a person is better off taking Vitamin D supplements than going out into the sun”.

7. Tan sprays have SPF. Many teens protect themselves from the sun by using self-tanning sprays thinking they’ll get that “healthy” tan look without the sun damage. “That’s only true if a person avoids the sun entirely.” Dr. Fox explained that, while tanning sprays may make teens look tan, they don’t offer any protection from the sun’s damaging rays. “Self-tanners may, in fact, make the skin more susceptible to damage. You will still need to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 after self-tanning,” he says.



Leading dermatologist discusses the newest – and safest – way to achieve sun kissed skin sans the risks

Ever since Coco Chanel returned from a French yachting voyage with a suntan in 1920, women, men, and even young teens have revered tanned skin as a sign of beauty and good health. Yet, the truth about skin that is exposed to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays is just the opposite. Sun-damaged skin is prone to premature aging, causing wrinkles, uneven skin tone, enlarged pores and age spots. What’s more, UV exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, which strikes one million Americans each year – nearly double the number of all other cancers combined. Although many of these cancers are rarely life threatening, they all can be disfiguring if they need to be surgically removed from the face, shoulders, chest or other commonly exposed area. Melanoma, of course, is the deadliest skin cancer and it is thought to be almost exclusively caused by sun exposure or use of tanning beds.

Fortunately, “spray-on tans” are a new alternative to “baking” on a tan that can provide a realistic, natural-looking tan without any UV exposure at all. Joshua Fox, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology, P.C. in New York and on Long Island, and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, explains, “Based on the available research, ’spray tans’ are a safe alternative to any UV-based tanning process, because they color the skin using an FDA-approved compound called DHA that simply tints the dead skin cells at the very top layer of the epidermis.” While a ‘spray tan’ does not actually fade, Dr. Fox points out, “it will disappear as the layer of skin is sloughed off – usually within a week.”

Getting the word out remains a challenge

“Despite the fact that ‘spray tans’ provide all the aesthetic benefits of a suntan without the serious dangers,” Dr. Fox notes, “recent research suggests that many sun-worshippers and tanning bed fans are still not getting the message.” For example, a study completed at Northwestern University and published in the April edition of Archives of Dermatology analyzed the knowledge, attitudes and behavior of young adults regarding indoor tanning over the course of 12 years. Researchers found that, between 1994 to 2007, the percentage of participants who knew that limiting tanning can help prevent melanoma actually decreased from 77% to 67% — a factor that coincided with an increase in the number of subjects who thought “having a tan looks better,” from 69% in 1994 to 81% in 2007. “Perhaps the most surprising statistic of all is that tanning bed use has remained at around 26-27% between 1994 and 2007, despite the fact that we learned during this time period just how dangerous these tanning beds can be,” Dr. Fox says.

In another recent study, researchers at Boston University Medical Center found that 44% of young adults surveyed had either used sunless tanning products like a ‘spray tan’ over the preceding 12 months or had planned to use them over the following 12 months. Unfortunately, these self-tanners were also more likely to use a tanning bed than those who had not used the sunless method. “There are certainly misconceptions and myths that still exist about the use of tanning beds, including the notion that the UVA rays in these machines are ‘healthier’ than UVB rays, but this is simply not the case,” Dr. Fox says. “In fact, UVA rays have been shown to penetrate more deeply than UVB rays, which are the main culprits in a ‘surface’ sunburn,” he adds. UVA also promotes skin cancer, wrinkling and other bad effects on the skin.

A ‘spray tan’ can either be applied at home by oneself or can be applied in a booth in a salon by trained personnel, to ensure even coverage. There are many choices of spray-on products so one should try to match the color. At a salon, the cost is usually between $25 and $40 per application, and the effects last about a week. After application, the tanning substance stays on the skin for about four hours before it can be showered off. While the compound itself is deemed safe, Dr. Fox offers two caveats: “’Spray tan’ participants should avoid inhaling the compound during application, and always remember that a ‘spray tan’ does not offer any significant protection at all from the harmful rays of the sun. In fact, DHA may make skin more sensitive and susceptible to UV damage – so a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is a must.” But the DHA product itself – without sun exposure – is safe and recommended if used to avoid tanning. Dr. Fox also recommends supplementing your diet with Vitamin D pills since you may not be getting enough supply from the sun.