Health risks of tanning

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Christina McAllister
Life Reporter

Canadians only average 111 hours of sun during the month of February.

This February in particular has been overwhelmingly bitter even in Toronto, shattering records with seemingly daily warnings of extreme cold.

The weather has got Canadians pining for 10 minutes of unadulterated sun and much needed vitamin D, which can be obtained this time of year at tanning salons.

Yet while tanning beds can increase vitamin D production, they are not a safe way to get Vitamin D, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the number of skin cancer cases related to tanning is greater than the number of lung cancer cases caused by smoking — and an overwhelming number of these cases were among college students.

While legislation enacted last year prohibits people under 18 from frequenting tanning salons in Ontario, it apparently does little to quell young Canadians incessant urge to appear as though they have recently returned from vacation.

The Canadian Dermatology Association says melanoma is the third most common form of cancer among young Canadian women and the second most common cancer in Ontarians between 15 and 35. It is mostly preventable, the association said.

Giananthony Rizzo, cell biologist who studied oncology at Western University, said tanning is dangerous and exposes individuals to unnecessary UV rays.

Harmful UVB rays are the primary cause of melanoma, the most common form of skin cancer, he said. Melanoma is caused by a mutation that occurs in the cell after it is exposed to UVB rays.

These mutations can accumulate and become cancer, Rizzo said.

“You can directly see the effects of radiation on the skin from a tan, a tan is dead cells,” he said.

Tanned skin is more aesthetically attractive in our society, which is why indoor tanning appeals to young women, said Rizzo.

There is a safe way to tan, but it’s difficult for some people to acknowledge that they can’t tan, he said.

Vice Versa Tanning Salon employee Kayla Lopes said tanning is safe in moderation.

All employees at Vice Versa must be Smart Tan certified, she said.

Smart Tan training provides prospective employees with the knowledge to accurately determine a clients burning potential..

Lopes gives first time clients a short questionnaire that helps determine skin tone. Questions range from “how easily do you burn” to “what color are your eyes.”

From these questions, Lopes determines where a client falls on the skin tone scale and recommends the amount time the client should spend in a tanning booth.

“The number one rule is not to burn,” Lopes said, “When you burn your skin, that’s what causes melanoma and long-term damage.”

Lopes also regulates the amount of times a client can tan per week.

“I don’t allow my clients to tan consecutively. I always make sure there’s a gap in between days,” she said.

Some amount of sun exposure is unavoidable, said Rizzo

“Tanning isn’t bad, everyone tans, to stay out of the sun completely protected is very unrealistic but knowing the risk factors and understanding yourself personally is very important,” said Rizzo.