Should You Salute the (Faux) Sun?

For so long we’ve been barraged with cautions of such sun-induced cancers as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, it’s hard to leave the house without first slathering on some level of SPF. Still, it’s summertime and you simply can’t look pasty on your vacation to Las Vegas, that family reunion in Tampa or your cousin’s wedding in San Diego … so, you reason, why not minimize the risk by visiting a tanning salon?

Debate still sizzles over tanning, specifically that of the faux glow “fake ‘n bake” variety. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, either through direct sun exposure or at a tanning salon, it produces a tan to prevent any further injury. Many doctors argue that skin damage from indoor tanning is more severe because it penetrates skin layers deeper, so you can’t shield your eyes from this one: there can be no tan without damaging your DNA, dermatologists say.

Such warnings have prompted some legislators to become the personification of sunscreen, proposing acts that would require the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether labeling on indoor tanning beds depict the appropriate risks. Others have taken it a step further, outlawing the use of tanning beds by children 16 years and younger without the in-person written permission of a parent or guardian.

But those in the business—perhaps predictably—beg to differ about the cons of tanning salons, citing among the practice’s pluses a controlled UV quotient and a quick way to get the daily recommended dose of 20 minutes of sunlight to keep our bodies filled with Vitamin D, which helps strengthen bones and prevents abnormal cell growth. Perhaps the biggest boost to the pro-tanners’ argument came in 1980, when brotherly epidemiologists Dr. Cedric Garland and Dr. Frank Garland began exploring the theory that exposure to sunlight may actually help protect the body against certain cancers.

As recently as 2005, research conducted by the Garlands at Moores Cancer Center found that “The high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency, combined with the discovery of increased risks of certain types of cancer in those who are deficient, suggest that Vitamin D deficiency may account for several thousand premature deaths from colon, breast, ovarian and other cancers annually.” The Garlands, whose study looked at Vitamin D supplements as well as sun exposure, suggest a daily intake of 1,000 IU of Vitamin D—half the intake recommended by the National Academy of Sciences—and said the amount could also be met by consuming foods high in vitamin D, such as milk.

But if you can’t fathom consuming the requisite glasses of milk a day, just remember you can always soak up the sun—artificial or otherwise—because the one thing doctors and tanning gurus can agree on is getting a moderate daily dose of sun will help maintain strong bones, prevent abnormal cell growth and keep you from looking pasty at your cousin’s wedding.

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