BU Today

Health & Wellness

A Safer Spring Break

Protecting yourself from too much sun


Photo courtesy of the Skin Cancer Foundation

If you’re thinking about visiting a tanning salon before hitting the beach for spring break, you might want to reconsider.

It’s a common misconception that getting a “base tan” before vacationing in a tropical location will prevent a sunburn, says Marie-France Demierre, a School of Medicine associate professor of dermatology and medicine. In addition, tanning beds use ultraviolet radiation (UV), which is a carcinogen, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health.

Young people often don’t understand the risk of getting too much UV exposure, Demierre says, and end up overdoing it. A single 15- to 30-minute tanning session is equivalent to an entire day of sunbathing on the beach. Demierre warns that indoor tanning is not regulated in Massachusetts, and customers are not required to wear eye protection.

Tanning can lead to a variety of problems, from wrinkles to skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. But that doesn’t stop millions of Americans — mostly young women — from visiting tanning salons each year. The American Academy of Dermatology found that women between the ages of 20 and 35 are the fastest growing group of melanoma victims.

Health-care professionals urge people to apply sunscreen when outdoors, whether spending time on the beach or on the slopes. But if you must have that sun-kissed look, you might try self-tanners. An application lasts three to five days.

Demierre says that students can be checked for early signs of skin cancer at the department of dermatology. It’s especially important for those who are light-skinned, have moles, or have a family history of melanoma.

“Skin damage doesn’t manifest until years later," she says, "and at that point it’s too late.”

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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