Being Well

Avoid Tanning Beds for Skin Cancer Prevention Month This May

Protect yourself and your skin from the sun to reduce the risk of cancer. Wide brim hats and a few extra layers (plus sunblock, obviously) help with this.

As you head into summer, it’s tempting to want a tan for that healthy glow. But a tan is not actually a sign of health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the tan that comes from ultraviolet (UV) rays, whether from the sun or a tanning bed, is evidence of damage to your skin that can lead to skin cancer.

The Mayo Clinic reports the rate of diagnoses for cancer of the skin has been increasing dramatically over the past 45 years, particularly for young women. Indoor tanning has been overwhelmingly linked with this increase in skin cancer occurrence, and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) shares that your risk of developing melanoma is 59 percent higher if you use tanning beds.

If you’re a minor (or have children who are), you’re at a greater risk because the UV damage is cumulative over time. Any UV exposure a child experiences significantly increases her risk for developing skin cancers throughout her lifetime. Regardless, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), each year 1.6 million minors make use of indoor tanning technology.

FDA Proposed Tanning Bed Restrictions

To address this alarming trend, the FDA proposed a ban that would prevent minors from using tanning beds. Requiring children to wait until adulthood to use the indoor tanning beds will hopefully help reduce cancer diagnoses. The ban also proposed equipment standards that would help to protect adults who choose to use indoor tanning beds. Those adults will also need to sign documents stating that they were advised of the risks involved, and re-sign those documents every six months while they’re making use of the tanning equipment. This helps ensure they have accurate information, similar to the warning labels on cigarettes.

How to Protect Your Skin

The two main things for you to do are to avoid tanning beds and develop a sunscreen habit. Make applying sunscreen part of your morning routine and keep some at work or in your school backpack to reapply. That includes every two hours when you’re outdoors, and after vigorous activity or swimming. Protecting your skin and eyes with clothing is fun, so invest in some funky wide-brimmed hats and cool sunglasses that are rated to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. It’s always important to remember to get out of the sun before you start to burn, and remember a burn can easily sneak up on you hours later. Monitor your skin and discuss any changes to your skin or moles with your doctor.

Finally, it’s difficult to effectively apply sunscreen to your own back, so ask someone to help! Remember to inspect your back for changes in your skin or the size, shape or color of your moles there.

May is National Skin Cancer and Prevention Month

While cancer of the skin diagnoses are increasing, the disease is treatable and often preventable if the signs are caught early enough. May is National Skin Cancer and Prevention Month, which helps educate you on ways to protect your skin. Check out screenings in your area, including UVA’s free screening happening on Saturday, May 7.

As well, the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated May 27 as Don’t Fry Day. It’s a great opportunity to consider your skin care and sun exposure habits, stock up on sunblock and floppy hats and to make a skincare plan for you and your family. Use that day to throw a few extra bottles of sunblock in your car and your beach bags. Skin cancer prevention might just be that simple.


Each May, UVA Health System’s dermatology clinic offers a free skin cancer screening event. People of all ages can receive screening for potential skin cancer concerns, and receive information and tools to help keep their skin healthy.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley