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Soak up the sun: Spring breakers hit tanning beds

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GINA R. HEINE
March 18, 2009
— Doctors cringe as spring breakers rush to local tanning salons to prep for the beach.

It's one of the busiest times of year for tanning salons, managers say, as people seek a base tan or an escape from winter for even a few minutes.


"People start to get ready for vacations, and they want to get a base tan so they don't burn," said Beth McGovern, manager of Paradise Island Tanning Salon in Janesville.


But talk with a salon manager and a dermatologist and you'll find differing statements on tanning.


'Base tan'

"You really want to get a base tan before you spend a lot of time in the sun," said Lyndsey Beltz, manager of Bronze Body Tan in Milton. "The more color you can get before a vacation, the less likely you're going to burn."


Dermatologists have a different view.


"It really does not help," said Dr. Jeanne Godar, a Mercy dermatologist. "A tan is equivalent of an SPF 4. This is not really sufficient for adequate protection when you're on vacation."


SPF stands for sun protection factor. An SPF 4 means you can be in the sun four times longer before you burn, Godar said.


Godar admits a base tan might help "up to a point," but "it really is not going to protect them from a sunburn."


UV index

Outdoor enthusiasts need to be aware of the UV index—the amount of ultraviolet rays expected to reach the earth's surface—because the sun is much stronger in southern latitudes than in Wisconsin right now.


"The higher the index, the faster (the sun) causes damage to skin," Godar said.


For example, the UV index in Janesville on a recent sunny day was 3, on a scale of 0 to 10. The same day, the UV index was 6 in Cancun, Mexico. People headed for the outdoors need to take more care when the index is between 5 and 10, Godar said.


UV index can be found in weather reports.


Even on a cloudy day, people can get a sunburn, Godar said.


If you tan

Despite health warnings, people are going to tan. So what's the safest way?


"There's no safe tanning," Godar said. "I do believe sunless tanning products could give a person the appearance they're seeking without the damage."


Beltz, however, cautions against using spray tans for people going on vacation because it only gives the illusion of a tan, so you're "going to burn just as much as you would have without it."


People using tanning beds should know what skin cancers look like and examine themselves once a month, Godar said.


Beltz and McGovern, both salon managers, offered these tips:


-- Go slowly.


"Start tanning a month before you go, build up slowly," Beltz said. "If you get pink, wait a few days."


-- Don't go tanning more than once within 24 hours.


-- Certain medications can make your skin hypersensitive, so talk with your doctor about your prescription, McGovern said.


-- Eye protection is a must. Without it, you can lose your night vision, Beltz said.


-- "The most important is just to never burn your skin," McGovern said. "Build your tan slowly."


McGovern also points out moderate sun exposure to gain Vitamin D is good for skin.


People headed to the beach should apply sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 about 30 minutes before sun exposure, reapply every two hours and after swimming, Godar said. Beach-goers also should wear sunglasses with ultraviolet protection.


Campus campaigns

At UW-Whitewater, where students are gearing up for spring break in just a few days, the health service on campus discourages the use of tanning beds.


"It's hard for young people to believe the information that I'm sharing with them," wellness coordinator Marilyn Kile said.


That's because the effects of UV rays don't show up right away, so it's hard for people to connect the cause and effect of skin damage or risk of cancer, she said.


Over the years, several campus campaigns have tried to make students aware of the effects of tanning, including giving out free sunscreen, she said.


Doctors warn that skin cancer has been rising over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million new cases likely to be diagnosed in the United States this year, Godar said.


About 70 percent of the 1 million Americans that use tanning beds are women and girls ages 16 to 29, she said. That's concerning because the effects won't show until those young people head into middle age, she said.


"The number of cases of future skin cancer will increase in future years," she said.



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