No Such Thing as a Safe Tan, Study Says

By Chelsea Whyte on July 25, 2012 7:41 PM EDT

tan line
There is no safe level of tanning, according to new research, which shows that both UVA and UVB rays can lead to skin cancer. (Photo: Creative Commons: Flickr/Evil )

That tan on your shoulders can be a sign of a day spent lounging at the beach, but it's also a sign of skin damage. A new study conducted by researchers at George Washington University and published in Nature Communciations produced evidence to support the warnings dermatologists have been giving for years: there is no such thing as a 'safe' tan.

 "This is the first time that UV-induced melanin formation (tanning), traditionally thought to protect against skin cancer, is shown to be directly involved in melanoma formation in mammals," said researcher Edward De Fabo, a professor at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "Skin melanoma is the most lethal of the skin cancers."

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The team used a mouse model to explore the effects of doses of ultraviolet wavelengths that mimic exposure to the sun. They found that melanin - the skin's pigment-producing substance - plays a role in developing melanoma.

By separating out the effects of UVA and UVB light, they found that melanin is stimulated by only UVA rays to become a melanoma-causing agent. With UVB radiation, melanoma starts independent of melanin, due to direct DNA damage.

"This is especially important since melanoma formation has been correlated with sunbed use as many epidemiological studies have shown. One possible reason for this is that tanning lamps are capable of emitting UVA radiation up to 12 times, or higher, the UVA intensity of sunlight at high noon," De Fabo said, according to The Daily Mail.

The use of tanning devices early in life is linked to increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life. In fact, a person who has used tanning devices for more than 50 hours, 100 sessions, or 10 or more years is 2 1/2 to three times more likely to develop melanoma than a person who has never tanned indoors, reports The State Journal-Register.

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