This time of year, many people are looking forward to enjoying time in the sun. Others are seeking a sun-kissed glow at the tanning beds before prom and wedding season. While tanned skin is often considered beautiful, tanning (in the sun or at the tanning beds) is actually damaging to the skin. According to Dr. Amreen Sitabkhan of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Dallas and Carrollton, Texas, “Tanning during the spring and summer is still really common even though people are aware of the potential skin health risks. From the increased chances of developing skin cancer to accelerated signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles, tanning can be just as bad for the health and appearance of skin as sunburns.” In this blog, Dr. Sitabkhan will discuss the hazards of tanning and how to prevent damage and health issues like skin cancer related to sun exposure.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
About the types of skin cancer, Dr. Sitabkhan says, “There are several types of skin cancer, and while they’re all serious and need to be addressed as soon as possible, melanoma has the highest risk of death. It’s important to know the underlying causes of skin cancer and take preventive steps, including minimizing UVA/B exposure and using sunscreen regularly.”
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma – The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas are also the least likely to lead to death. However, it’s still important to seek treatment for this type of skin cancer since untreated basal cell carcinoma can lead to serious, long-term skin health concerns.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma – Another common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinomas are cancers that develop in the outer layers of skin cells. While this type of cancer is more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, it still has a relatively low mortality rate. However, treatment is necessary as soon as possible to prevent the spread to other tissue.
- Melanoma – The least common form of skin cancer, melanoma causes 79% of deaths related to skin cancer. Late-stage diagnosis is the reason this form of skin cancer is linked to so many deaths. For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.
Do Tanning Beds Cause Cancer?
According to Dr. Sitabkhan, “Yes. Regularly using tanning beds can cause skin cancer. Just like repeated sun exposure, the UVA rays used by tanning beds to trigger tanning can substantially increase the risk for skin cancer. It’s essential to limit sun and tanning bed exposure to avoid short and long-term skin damage and minimize the risk for skin cancer. If you’re committed to tanning, consider spray-on tanning as a safer alternative. There are many options available today that look natural.”
In addition to UVA/UVB ray exposure from the sun and/or tanning beds, other underlying causes of skin cancer include genetic predisposition, repeated exposure to certain chemicals, and burns or other injuries. While skin cancer may be related to any of these factors, UV radiation exposure is the most common contributing factor among individuals who are diagnosed with skin cancer.
Is it Important to Screen for Skin Cancer?
About skin cancer screenings, Dr. Sitabkhan says, “If you’re at an increased risk for skin cancer, which may mean you work outdoors, have fair skin, or you have a family history of this condition, you need to conduct a thorough self-exam once a month. Even if you’re not at high risk, screening every month is a good idea as the more often you check, the better.”
When conducting self-exams, you should look for the following symptoms of the most common forms of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma – They vary in appearance, but basal cell carcinomas will most frequently look like small moles that are the natural color of skin. While they may mimic the appearance of benign moles and skin lesions, they are likely to bleed easily and may be an infection risk. Basal cell carcinomas can develop anywhere, but they are most likely to develop on the face and neck. Their coloring is usually pink, and the color often appears pearlescent (shiny). Over time, the spots may develop scabs, thicken to form scales, and darken. In some cases, basal cell carcinomas resemble scar tissue.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma – The look and feel of squamous cell carcinomas can vary drastically from person to person, but they often look like firm, raised lesions, scabbed over spots, or ulcerated sores that develop on areas of the skin that receive frequent sun exposure (face, neck, hands). In addition to skin that receives frequent sun exposure, squamous cell carcinomas may also develop in the mouth and around the genitals. In most cases, people notice a squamous cell carcinoma because it develops and evolves very quickly.
- Melanoma – They vary in appearance, but the majority of melanomas look like moles. Many melanomas even develop out of existing moles. In other cases, melanomas begin as sores that don’t heal quickly or skin lesions that evolve rapidly. They tend to be dark in color (usually brown or black), but they may be a lighter color when they first develop and darken over time.
In addition to these common characteristics that are specific to each form of skin cancer, you should always keep the ABCDEs of skin cancer, outlined below, in mind when conducting your regular self-checks:
- A – Asymmetry – the spot looks different on one side
- B – Border – the spot has an uneven (scalloped) border
- C – Color – the spot varies in color, changes color, or is a different color than other similar spots
- D – Diameter – any spot larger in diameter than a #2 pencil eraser may be cause for concern
- E – Evolution – any spot that is changing, especially if the change is very rapid
If you notice any warning signs of skin cancer, you should schedule a visit with your dermatologist right away. In addition to visiting a dermatologist if you notice signs of concern during regular self-exams, it’s also important to visit a dermatologist at least once each year for a professional skin cancer screening.
Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?
According to Dr. Sitabkhan, “When it comes to minimizing the risk of skin cancer, taking preventive measures is essential. Regular self-exams and annual professional screenings are great steps to protect the skin, but there are other steps we can take every day to significantly minimize the risk of skin cancer.” Some of the most beneficial preventive steps individuals can take to protect against skin cancer include:
- Wear a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen every day even if it’s cloudy, cold, or you’ll be inside most of the day
- Reapply sunscreen a least every two hours, especially if you’re going to be outdoors for a prolonged period
- Limit sun exposure during peak hours between 10 am and 4 pm
- Skip the trip to the tanning bed
- Protect skin by seeking shade, wearing hats, gloves, sunglasses, long sleeves, and pants
Don’t Skip Your Annual Professional Skin Exam
We never recommend using tanning beds or spending prolonged periods outside without sunscreen, but if you are exposed to UVA/B rays regularly, it’s essential to visit your dermatologist once a year for a professional skin exam. If you need a professional skin exam, you can get started working with the U.S. Dermatology Partners team by completing our simple online scheduling request. Once your local U.S. Dermatology Partners practice hears from you, they’ll be back in touch to finalize the details of your appointment.
Find a location near me