A lot of the world’s leading dermatologists are now warning that tanning can actually make you more prone to developing melanoma.
Tanning is a key component of modern tanning beds, but it has also been linked to a host of other health issues, including an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Now, a team of researchers from the University of Washington is reporting that the process can make us more sensitive to sun exposure.
Their paper, which was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Genetics, and Prevention, looks at the potential links between tanning, skin cancer and melanoma, and is a good reminder that the tanning industry is a very complex one.
“Tanning is not an inherently dangerous practice,” said lead author and University of Wisconsin–Madison assistant professor of dermatology Richard J. Smith.
“But it’s a very complicated practice, and it can be difficult to understand how to apply this information in a way that is appropriate.”
In their paper, the researchers analyzed the health histories of 8,988 participants who had participated in a skin-cancer screening study at two tanning facilities in the United States, and who also had no history of melanoma or skin cancer in their medical records.
The researchers found that, compared to participants who did not have melanoma in their records, participants who used tanning products had an increased likelihood of developing melanomas in their skin cells, as well as a higher likelihood of melanomas developing in other parts of their body, such as the neck, shoulder, or chest.
They also found that participants who were exposed to ultraviolet radiation, which is the most prevalent form of sunlight exposure, had a greater risk of melanocytic skin cancers in their cells.
“We did find that those who were using tanning agents had a higher incidence of melanoblastic skin cancers,” Smith said.
“The tanning agent exposure might have affected the melanocytes in the skin cells.
And there’s a possibility that this might have been the case in other participants who also used other forms of sunscreens.”
The study also found some differences between the groups, including that participants with melanoma were more likely to have been exposed to tanning chemicals in the past, and those who had melanoma did not appear to be particularly sensitive to them.
“It’s possible that this study is a first step in understanding the potential benefits of exposure to these chemicals, and how they affect skin health,” Smith told New Scientist.
The study is important because it offers the first proof of concept of a connection between exposure to sunscooters and skin cancer, and the findings could be helpful in improving tanning policies and programs, he added.
The findings also provide a reminder that tannery workers may not be immune to the dangers of tanning.
“This study is really about the impact of these chemicals on skin cells,” Smith explained.
“They could have a direct effect on melanoma development, and potentially even melanoma growth, in skin cells.”
The researchers hope that the study will prompt the development of more comprehensive and rigorous research that can identify which tanning and sunscooter chemicals are safe and which are not.
“There’s no such thing as a safe tan,” Smith noted.
“And I hope that our findings will inspire the research community to do more studies to figure out how these chemicals might affect human health.”
The authors of the new study also plan to continue their work with the tannery industry to better understand how these substances work in humans, and are also working to establish guidelines for use of tannery chemicals in health care settings.
For more on this story, read the New Scientist article.