Ultraviolet radiation is a documented serious human carcinogen. Really think about the name – sunlight is radiation, slowly but surely causing irreversible damage to our cells. It’s a slower kind of radiation poisoning but it’s still there.
The damage the sun can do
Sunburn and UV exposure is to blame for up to 95% of melanomas and about 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers. In the U.S. more than 5.4 million non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in over 3.3 million people every year. Each year there are more skin cancers than all breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their life.
Down here in Australia, thanks to the hole in the ozone layer and our cultural worship of the sun, two in three Australians will find themselves with skin cancer. If you’re Australian, more likely to get skin cancer than not.
Obviously, we have reason to take skin cancer seriously. Since the discovery that people who use a tanning bed even once before the age of 35 have a 59% greater risk of melanoma, new laws were put in place. It is illegal to run a solarium in any state or territory of Australia as of last year.
Why should you care?
I know it’s easy to read statistics and laws like this and not feel any personal connection to these people’s stories. They’re just numbers. You never think that something like that would happen to you.
As someone who grew up between the UK and Australia, I’ve had it hammered into me for my entire life that the sun = bad. I’m very fair and my parents knew the dangers of letting me tan or burn. I’m so grateful that they made good choices for me when I was too small to do so for myself, and that they taught me to keep it up throughout adulthood. I never had an emotional reason to do this, it was just a habit for me – something to be done and forgotten about.
Unfortunately for my parents, they grew up in a time not so long ago but lightyears behind in knowledge. My dad lived in Central Australia, with summers of over 40 degrees celsius 105 Fahrenheit) for weeks on end and astronomical UV ratings. He would have sunburn competitions with his sisters and see who could peel off the biggest sheet of skin from their backs.
His sister insisted that he go see a doctor for a mole on his back, as she (and every other member of my extended family) had all by then had skin cancer removed too. He denied it and ignored her for months, saying this mole was like any other. Finally he succumbed to my mother’s pleas. He didn’t see the point, and thought it would be a waste of time, but went anyway to get them to stop bothering him.
He was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
Change the Conversation
It hurts and baffles me to have seen first hand the positive rhetoric that still surrounds tanning in North America. There is still so much misinformation and it costs people their lives. It’s easy to feel disconnected and apathetic when it hasn’t happened to you. Yet.
I suggest watching and sharing these videos with your friends and family who you care about. Skin cancer is an affordably and easily preventable disease and people are throwing away their lives for a beauty trend. Perhaps these people who are suffering the consequences of their actions will open your eyes to your future if you don’t stop tanning.
Think back to when you were 16 – did you do some things you regret? Now think of the future. Do you see yourself surrounded by loved ones, living life to the fullest?
We can’t predict what will happen in our lives – the trends that come and go, our relationships and heartbreaks, or the decisions that will haunt us forever. Life’s one big learning curve. But take some advice from those that have been there – you can’t keep tanning and expect to get to that dream life. Think of your family and friends, mourning your loss because you ignored the facts and couldn’t be bothered with sunscreen.
Claire Oliver died of melanoma in 2007 when she was 26, around the time that Australian specialists made the link between solariums and skin cancer. At this time, there was still very little knowledge about the dangers of tanning, though this was changing. This is a place to which I hope the US will be arriving at soon, and hopefully follow in our suit in outlawing solariums. Before her passing, she had a message to share with other young people – that no tan is worth dying for.
Another tanning bed devotee Ashley Tranner died in 2013 at the age of 40. She shares her deep regret in this video, urging others that it’s just not worth it to get a tan.
Marisha lost her nose and other parts of her face to squamous cell carcinoma. See her story and the extent of the damage on The Doctors.
These tanning addicts face a real-life example of the consequences.
Skin cancer is scary because it happens to all of us; old or young, regardless of gender, race and religion. It’s scary because it’s preventable yet kills so many. You need to be aware, and you need to be vigilant. Get skin checks once yearly with a dermatologist or skin specialist. Take note of any changes to your skin. Wear properly formulated sunscreen religiously and make sure your friends and family do too. There’s no reason to risk your life for a tan.
Read more about skin cancer statistics and solariums, and legislation here.
Stay safe out there!