here is a common myth that a tan implies being healthy and outdoorsy, and can make you appear more attractive. Some people are even tempted to forego the sunscreen, at least for a little while, to get that healthy tan.

What exactly is that healthy glow? It’s an increase in skin pigment called melanin, and it is a sign of skin damage. Evidence suggests tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. And, contrary to what many Canadians may believe, getting a tan does not prevent sunburn or other skin damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 2–4; far below the recommended minimum of 30.

Risk of tanning

The tan you get from a salon is no healthier, and is particularly dangerous for young people. It’s estimated that sunbed use before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, by 35 percent.

Sunburn is the next step in skin damage if we don’t protect ourselves properly. Sunburn is the skin’s short-term response to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that penetrates the skin and harms the DNA within the cells of its structure. With repeated, unprotected exposure the damage caused by UV radiation may result in sun-induced changes such as wrinkles, mottling of skin colour, and skin
cancer — not attractive or outdoorsy at all.

Protecting your skin

Dermatologists suggest protecting your skin anytime you plan to go outdoors, especially between April and September when the UV Index is typically higher than three. Use sunscreen labelled broad-spectrum and water-resistant with an SPF of at least 30, and apply generously. Seek shade, or bring your own, for example an umbrella. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Do not go to a tanning salon, and don’t forget to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses or prescription glasses with UV protection.

Foregoing the unhealthy glow this summer will help reduce your risk of skin cancer and is likely to mean your skin remains attractive for many years to come. And remember, if you see unusual changes to our skin — see your physician as soon as possible. Catching skin cancer early is critical to reducing risk.