a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Week: 521.4 Guest: Mark Lowitt, M.D. Topic: Tanning Booths Host: Steve Girard Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: Around most of the country...tis the season many people are thinking about the beach, with the accompanying thoughts about shedding some extra pounds...and some want to look in mid season tan when they get to that vacation spot...so they head to a tanning salon to get a head start. Dr. Mark Lowitt, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is here...we get some good effects from the sun, don't we..?

Lowitt: Although a little bit of sun is necessary to make some vitamin D in the skin, and that's about the amount of sun you would get walking to the car and back on a sunny day, the long term effects of sun's exposure are much more devastating. And I think what you said...give you a good color'...that's the problem, good is the bad word, because its our impression, its our society's impression that brown is better...or dark is better. That's the fundamental problem, because the sun is so damaging to us in other ways.

NEMA: Friends who go to tanning salons have told me, "It's safer now than in the old days to get under the lights ...and it makes your skin resistant to burns outdoors."

Lowitt: Unfortunately, its not true...tanning salons have great reputations but don't deserve them. Its a gigantic industry, about a billion dollars a year is spent on tanning ...more than a million people go into tanning booths every single day. But unfortunately, most of these people do not have the true facts. The type of light that you usually get in a tanning booth is called a UVa light...this is one part of the sun's natural light. When you go out to the beach, you're exposed to both UVa and UVb...UVb is more likely to cause a sunburn. When you go to a tanning salon, you don't get that UVb...as a result, you are less likely to get a burn right away. But, unfortunately, the bad effects that can come from UVa exposure are there, but silent.

NEMA: So, people who hit the salon still face the same risks ?

Lowitt: It's been shown that people who go to tanning salons with any frequency have a higher risk of developing several types of skin cancer. The more common types are called basal cell, or squamous cell carcinoma, these can look like either a pearly bump, or a bump with a blood vessel running over it, or a sore that doesn't heal.But much more importantly, people who go to tanning parlors with any kind of frequency have been shown to have a higher risk of melanoma, which is a much more deadly skin cancer.

NEMA: What about sunblocks?

Lowitt: Sunblocks can help you wonderfully against basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, they can also protect you against photo-aging, or wrinkling of the skin and the things that come with sun exposure..but sunblocks do not protect you against melanoma....and if you have fair skin, lots of moles, or funny looking or atypical moles, you are at higher risk than the average person for the development of a melanoma.

NEMA: Is there a safe way to get that tanned appearance?

Lowitt: Self tanning creams are available, and are now much better than they used to be. You may remember 10 or 15 years ago...you could identify those who were wearing them because of they're unusual, unearthly yellow green color. This fortunately is not the case now, and the cosmetologist and scientist have perfected these materials...so now you can put on a self tanning lotion and achieve a so-called nice color, without subjecting yourself to the risks of sun.

NEMA: One more word of advice from Dr. Lowitt...take care of your skin ...don't put it at risk in the sun. I'm SG.

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Last modified: November 01, 2021