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CindySays: Avoid tanning beds if you want healthy skin

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,

When I have a goal, I go full force into it. I have been doing lots of strength training and monitoring my diet to get in shape and lose weight. I've lost more than 25 pounds, and this year I can't wait to go to the beach for vacation. My fitness center has a tanning salon inside and I'm thinking of purchasing a few sessions because I don't want to put a swimsuit on over my pasty-white body. I don't plan on getting fried, but hope to build up a base tan gradually so when we leave in August, I won't get burned. I'm curious how you feel about indoor tanning. -- Julie

Dear Julie,

Congratulations for working both hard and smart to reach your specific fitness goals. Building a strong, lean physique is all about scrutinizing calories and challenging your muscles. This investment of time and energy isn't easy, but upon completion, you are usually left with an extra dose of confidence to throw into your beach bag.

Indoor tanning, however, is another story. If you want to keep looking great, you need to stick to the weights and stay away from tanning beds. Most people who go to a tanning salon to build a base tan slowly don't fully understand the inherent risk within the sun bed. Dermatologists and other health experts agree there is no safe exposure level to ultraviolet radiation.

The strategic director of risk factor surveillance for the American Cancer Society, Vilma Cokkinides, explains, "Indoor tanning has become popular among young adult women and teenage girls. One chief motivation is that they believe they look more attractive and healthy with a tan. Many teens and their parents think getting a tan indoors is safer than tanning in the sun. But the truth is that tanning booths, lamps or sun beds emit ultraviolet radiation, just as the sun does. And exposure to UV radiation -- whether from the sun or from a manmade source -- can raise your risk of skin cancer."

A tan is a tan is a tan

Those interested in being lean and fit are often the ones who use indoor tanning to complete the trifecta: lean and strong with a sun-kissed glow. You can acquire that glow naturally under the rays of the sun or artificially in a sun bed. Either means will eventually be harmful to your skin and may possibly threaten your health.

Ultraviolet rays damage skin cells. Do it over and over -- salons love to sell package deals -- and the damage accumulates, leading to premature skin aging. The aging brings brown spots, wrinkles, lax skin and an increased risk for skin cancer. In fact, those who tan indoors with ultraviolet tanners increase the likelihood of developing melanoma by 74 percent over those who do not use tanning beds.

Accelerated skin aging

Give me an approved sun bed and I'll look and feel better. You walk in, and the smell of coconut invades your senses. You're relaxed and assured that the harmful rays are not going to get to you. Sounds perfect, nothing but 20 minutes and a little reggae music between you and paradise. You'll emerge evenly bronzed, feeling warm, happy and protected with a gorgeous base tan.

But the truth is, you have just fast-forwarded your skin's clock on acquiring wrinkles, leathery skin, freckles and the loss of elasticity. It's called photo aging.

But everyone does it, so it must be safe -- right?

In the U.S., the most common cancer you are at risk for is skin cancer. More than 2 million people will be diagnosed this year with squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, and there will be more than 70,000 cases of melanoma.

It is suspected that the incidence rate for melanoma has increased during the past 30 years because of the increase of ultraviolet exposure from indoor tanning devices. Twenty-six states have adopted restrictions based on age and require parental permission.

Unfit for fitness centers

Tanning beds are a source of revenue, they take up little space, and easily can be added to a hair salon or a fitness center. However, just because a sun bed is where people train to improve their health doesn't mean the beds are healthy. If a health and fitness facility owner really cared about your health, they would not have a tanning device.

But I need my vitamin D

We all need the sunshine vitamin. We naturally produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet-B rays in sunlight. We need anywhere from five to 30 minutes of sun exposure to our face, arms, back or legs two times a week -- and this is without sunscreen. Most people get this amount incidentally and therefore should use sunscreen most of the time.

If you long for a deep tan, consider one of the many exceptional self-tanning lotions, sprays or wipes. They are affordable, fairly long-lasting and without the risks associated with indoor tanning.

Take a look at the skin and health of those who have been regular sun worshippers. This should guide you to an answer about tanning beds.

So, Julie, rather than expose your fit body to harmful rays, use those 20 minutes to make a positive impact on your health. Shop to prepare more nutritious meals or spend a little more time kicking butt in the gym.

Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to cindysays@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.


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