With increased awareness about the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, some people have become smarter about sun protection, while others continue to ignore the extensive research linking tanning to skin cancer.
According to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), tanning has grown in popularity among the younger demographic, and more than 70 per cent of people who use tanning beds are between the ages of 16 to 29. This cohort appears to be most at risk for developing melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — later in life, whereas non-melanoma skin cancer can be successfully treated if caught early.
“A tan has commonly been construed as sexy,” says Falyn Katz, executive director of Melanoma Canada. “The term ‘a healthy glow’ is often used, but there is no healthy tan. Don’t tan. It’s that simple. It could save your life.”
As part of its national sun awareness campaign in May, the CDA is sharing information and resources on behaviours that can help reduce skin cancer risk. With its Tell Me You’re Sun Smart Without Telling Me You’re Sun Smart TikTok challenge, the association is hoping to reach the younger demographic and raise awareness about sun smart habits.
Dr. Benjamin Barankin, Toronto dermatologist and medical director of Toronto Dermatology Centre says that tanning not only leads to premature aging, but it may also worsen pre-existing health conditions.
“The sun has immediate dangers such as a painful or blistering sunburn, but beyond that, it can dry out the skin, worsen melasma, rosacea and lupus, and may evoke cold sores,” he says. “The sun also has longer term dangers, namely pre-cancers and skin cancers.”
Barankin says the best way to protect the skin is to use a high-quality broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock, find one for the body and one for the face, and reapply it every two to three hours, after showering or swimming. Minimizing exposure to sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. can also help, along with wearing broad-brimmed hats, high-quality sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Monthly skin self-checks are important, but any new or existing moles or lesions that change in shape should be assessed by a dermatologist.
In 2022, the Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 9,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer, and 1,200 will die from it, numbers that are headed in the wrong direction, says Katz.
“Melanoma is a serious cancer,” she says. “I wish Canadians would wear sunscreen the way they wear seatbelts — every time you go outside, just like every time you get a car.”