Early November seems an unlikely time to learn about tanning and sunburn risks, but why wait till you are out there in the heat and be totally uninformed? As a three-time skin cancer survivor, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding and outright ignorance about sun exposure risks. As my dermatologist told me, “There is no such thing as a healthy tan.”
A recent American Academy of Dermatology survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults revealed a significant increase in both tanning and number of sunburns in 2021 compared to 2020. Since tanning and sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging, the AAD is encouraging the public to practice safe sun so they don’t get burned by the sun’s harmful rays. It’s never too early to emphasize the importance of sun protection as many people will be spending more time outdoors enjoying summer activities.
According to the survey, 63% of respondents reported getting a tan in 2021, a 9-percentage point increase from 54% in 2020, and 33% reported getting sunburned in 2021, an 8-percentage point increase from 25% in 2020.
The survey also found that many still believe several tanning myths, which if followed, can cause significant skin damage. Of the survey respondents, 45% believe one or more of these tanning myths:
- 22% believe a base tan will prevent sunburns.
- 20% believe tanning is safe as long as you do not burn.
- 18% believe a base tan decreases the risk of skin cancer.
- 13% believe tanning is healthy.
In addition, 53% of the survey respondents believe people with tanned skin look healthier.
“A tan is your body’s response to injury,” said board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD, FAAD, based in Dallas. “When you tan, you are intentionally putting your health at risk. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.”