Why Is Tanning Linked to Skin Cancer?

UV radiation, whether from natural or artificial sources, causes significant damage to the skin. Below are some of the short and long term side effects of UV exposure associated with tanning:

  • Sunburn is one of the most obvious signs of UV exposure and skin damage. Studies have shown a link between severe sunburn and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
  • Premature aging is the result of unprotected UV exposure. It takes the form of leathery, wrinkled skin, and dark spots. Premature aging is a long-term side effect of UV exposure, meaning it may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan.
  • Actinic keratosis are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer, and are caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. They are the most common pre-malignant skin condition, occurring in more than 5 million Americans each year.
  • Photokeratitis can be thought of as a sunburn of the cornea caused by intense UVC/UVB exposure of the eye.
  • Cataracts are one form of eye damage that research has shown may increase with UV exposure. Wearing sun protection gear such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100% UV protection can help decrease the risks of eye damage.

Why is tanning linked to skin cancer?

The most serious side effect of tanning is the increased risk of skin cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is often fatal. Non-melanoma skin cancers are not usually fatal but should not be taken lightly.

Melanoma is the less common, but more dangerous form of skin cancer, and accounts for most of the deaths due to skin cancer each year. Melanoma is cancer that begins in the epidermal cells that produce melanin. According to the American Cancer Society melanoma is almost always curable when detected in its early stages.

Non-melanomas occur in the basal or squamous cells located at the base of the epidermis, both inside and outside the body. Non-melanomas often develop in sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands.

Predisposition to skin cancer can be hereditary, meaning it is passed through the generations of a family through genes. There is also strong evidence suggesting that exposure to UV rays, both UVA and UVB, can cause skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than one million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S. are considered sun-related. Skin cancer occurs in people of all skin tones, though it is less common in those with darker skin tones. Assessing a person’s risk with the help of a dermatologist, protecting the skin, and performing regular skin cancer checks are the best methods of prevention.