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Teens and Melanoma

By: Carl Thornfeldt, MD, FAAD
Posted: April 29, 2011, from the May 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Teens believe: Tanned skin looks healthier than pale skin.

Real story: The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) conducted a recent sun exposure teen study and found that 63% of teens believe they look better with a tan, while 43% admitted to lying out in the sun. One-third of the teen respondents claimed to “always” use sunscreen, with nearly the same number of teens declaring they never use it. The sun produces both UVA and UVB rays, both of which are linked to DNA damage and cell mutation. Like other nonmelanoma skin cancers, the major driver is sun exposure. Tanned skin is actually an indicator that the skin is damaged, so there is no safe tan. Injury to the skin barrier induces the production of melanin melanocytes within the skin to increase protection.

Teens believe: Tanning beds are safer than the sun because they don’t have the UVB rays that burn the skin.

Real story: Tanning beds tout their “safer” tanning rays, but remember any tan is a sign of damage to the skin. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published data in 2003 that showed that 95% of tanning customers received more than the recommended dose of UV radiation, after studying 50 tanning facilities. Tanning beds can expose an individual to four times the amount of UVA and two times the amount of UVB as a similar period of sun exposure.1 People are unable to feel UVA rays on their skin, but they contribute the most to skin aging and skin cancer. UVA rays inhibit the function of the surveillance cells, or Langerhans cells, that detect damaged cells and send white blood cells to stop the damage.

Teens believe: You only need to wear sunscreen on sunny summer days.