No, You Don’t Need a Tan to Look Good
Last updated: May 2021
“You need a tan,” were words spoken to my three-month-old granddaughter by her dad. I gave him a look that kills, and he responded that he was just kidding. He knows what I’ve gone through with skin cancer: the regularly scheduled appointments with my dermatologist; the biopsies; the surgeries and recoveries.
There's no such thing as a healthy tan
Why do so many people think a tan makes someone look healthy when, in fact, having a tan means that your skin is damaged? Increased sun damage can age your skin. The Cleveland Clinic reports that, over time, the sun’s ultraviolet light damages the elastin in our skin. This causes the skin to then sag and stretch and also causes the skin to bruise more easily and take longer to heal. This damage may take a while to show up, but rest assured, the damage is happening with sun exposure. Sun exposure can also cause wrinkles and leathery skin.
Age spots are not so hot
Have you noticed age spots on yourself or others? According to the Mayo Clinic, age spots appear mainly on the face, shoulders, arms, and hands – the areas on the body that have the most sun exposure over the years.1 The use of tanning beds can also cause them, so don’t think that going to a tanning bed instead of lying in the sun will save you from them.
The risk of skin cancer isn't worth the tan
Even worse, how about the fact that you’re increasing your risk of skin cancer by getting a tan? Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer, and about 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.2 The most common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, are typically found in areas exposed to the sun, like your arms, neck, and head. While these types of skin cancer can be fatal, they are usually treatable. Take it from me, though, “treatable” doesn’t mean easy-peasy. It could mean biopsies and numbing shots and surgeries and recovery time and scars and permanent damage.
Skin cancer is far too common
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. More than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and more than two people die of skin cancer in the United States every hour. Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma, but getting even just one blistering sunburn as a child more than doubles a person’s chance of developing melanoma.2
If I could turn back time...
I’ve had skin cancer for over 25 years. I can’t tell you how many times I now wish I had taken better care of my skin when I was younger. Looking at these statistics, I’m not surprised that I have skin cancer. I spent far too much time playing outside as a child without wearing sunscreen and lying out in the sun as a teenager and adult, trying to get the perfect tan. I can’t undo the damage I’ve already done to my skin, but I can try to help prevent future damage.
And you, too, can take better care of your skin. There can be a big price to pay for having a suntan - visible skin damage, skin cancer, even death. Having a tan is not worth dying for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an adult, a teenager, a kid, or an infant – you don’t need a tan.
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