Myth: Tanning is just not worth the risk

How much “fun in the sun” (or tanning booth) you want to enjoy is a decision that only you can make, after considering and balancing all the relevant facts.

Health risk. On a population basis, the lifetime risk of contracting a fatal melaonoma, is low. The risks of other skins cancer (basal cell, squamous cell) are higher, but those cancers are typically not fatal. The reality is that the vast majority of the UV-exposed population don’t contract or die from skin cancer.

While the statistics mentioned above have been developed on a population basis, they may not apply to you — your actual risk of cancer could be higher or lower and depend on your risk factors for skin cancer (e.g., skin type, family history of skin cancer). You are a person not a population.

The good news about skin cancer is that it can have a high cure rate if diagnosed early enough. Regular visits to a dermatologist facilitate early diagnosis.

Health benefits. Weighed against the health risks of UV radiation are the benefits. There are physical health benefits (e.g., vitamin D production) and psychological benefits (e.g., cosmetic, stress reduction and enjoyment).

Unknown Factors and Controversies. Scientists don’t know everything there is to know about the impact of UV radiation on human health. Here are some areas of controversy:

  • Dose-response. If exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of melanoma, no one knows what how much exposure produces how much risk (i.e., there is no dose-response curve).
  • Vitamin D. There are a number of researchers making health claims about the role of vitamin D. While much more research needs to be done, they cannot be dismissed out of hand.
  • Suncreen. While sunscreen is effective at preventing sunburn, it also is effective at blocking vitamin D production. If you don’t get enough vitamin D from your diet, including through dietary supplements, then you may develop a vitamin D deficiency that may cause various adverse health effects.

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