In my early 20s, I faced the knife — a dermatologist grazing and paring off years of totally-tanned temptation. It took two office calls to scalpel the nascent pre-cancerous cells budding in my leg, years of sunburns and artificial tanning to remove.
If a buddy didn’t notice the suspicious skin stain who knows if I’d alive to tell the story.
She’s the same girlfriend who watched me sneak around tanning salons throughout high school and college, and into parenthood — tanning from age 15 to the ripe old age of 34.
A skin cancer scare didn’t make me quit. It was addiction — and daily ritual.
Sometimes I enjoyed two tanning visits a day, each and every day, soaking in a whole hour of ultraviolet radiation — artificial rays up to 15 times higher than midday sun — all to achieve the sun-kissed radiance guys love.
It was common in the 1980s — and the dangerous habit exists even today. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 24 percent of non-Hispanic, white teenagers age 13 to 19 used a tanning salon at least once.
These kids will someday counter skin damage — just like me. Skin cancer rates — including melanoma — are on the rise, even in youngsters.
This weekend we hit highways and terminals, enjoying sweet, sundrenched escapes from gray skies and snow — it’s time for local school spring breaks. Bikinis look better with bronzed skin, but child doctors nationwide are teaching girls to “love the skin you’re in,” staying pale, rather than seeking a golden-brown tinge this vacation.
Here’s the organization’s stance:
“Tanning salons are not safe and should not be used by teenagers or others. Along with the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Academy of Pediatrics supports legislation prohibiting access to tanning salons or use of artificial tanning devices by children under the age of 18.”
I agree. Parents and pediatricians are first lines of defense to teach skin cancer prevention. Lessons start young with basics:
Rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Avoid sun during those hours. UV rays bounce back from sand, snow or concrete; be careful of these areas. Use sun protection even on cloudy days.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for the words “broad-spectrum” on the label, screening out both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A rays. Pick water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen and reapply every two hours. Use Zinc oxide — a very effective sunblock — on the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders. Slather on a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
Rub sunscreen in well, covering all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet and hands, and even backs of knees. Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outdoors. Sunscreens should be used for sun protection and not as reason to bask longer.
Light-colored, tightly-woven clothing reflects sunlight rather than absorbs it. A wide-brimmed hat also affords protection.
According to the American Optometric Association, sunglasses should block-out 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation and screen-out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. Gray, green or brown lenses work best.
As teenagers beg for prom and spring break tans, encourage safe, sunless, spray tanning. The temporary, easily-removed bronzer disappears in a week with a good soap and water scrubbing. Make sure children use sun protection after sunless products — since it provides no added sunscreen.
Dermatologists beg teens to regularly scrutinize moles in a well-lit room.
Standing in front of a full-length mirror, examine the body’s front and back. With arms raised, do the same for the left and right sides. Bend both elbows and carefully inspect forearms, back of the upper arms, and hand palms.
Look at the backs of legs and feet, spaces between toes, and foot soles.
Hold up a hand mirror and examine the back of the neck and scalp. Part hair to lift.
Check the back and buttocks.
If you spot any unusual looking moles, immediately make an appointment with your pediatrician. Skin cancers are eminently treatable when caught early, according to AAP.