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Injury Prevention and Safety

Protect Your Family from the Sun's Rays


Protect Your Family from the Sun's Rays

Ask anyone suffering from skin cancer, tanning is a bad idea! According to the American Cancer Society, overexposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet (UV) radiation is thought to be the major risk factor not only for basal and squamous cell skin cancers, but for the more serious melanoma, as well. 

Skin Cancer is on the Rise 

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with one in five Americans developing skin cancer at some point in their lifetime. While the vast majority of these are basal cell skin cancer, the least dangerous, the number of melanomas is on the rise. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 68,130 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2010.  More than  two million Americans are diagnosed with some type of skin cancer each year, and more than 11,790 die. Melanoma accounts for approximately 75 percent of the skin cancer deaths.  

Even though cancer usually does not develop until later in life, skin damage from sun overexposure builds up over time, and once damage occurs, it cannot be reversed. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults ages 25-29 and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults ages 15-29.   

Sun Damage Cannot be Reversed 

The sun emits three types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is not a problem, it is absorbed by the ozone layer in the Earth's atmosphere. But UVB rays cause sunburn as well as skin cancer and premature aging of skin. UVA rays stimulate tanning but are also linked with other problems such as cataracts and other eye problems, premature aging of skin, wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity, skin rashes, and allergic or other reactions to drugs. UVA and UVB are both designated as causes of skin cancer by the National Institutes of Health

Use Protection and Avoid Tanning Beds 

Everyone is encouraged to protect themselves from these rays by using a sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF (sun-protection factor) of at least 15, or 30 if you have fair skin, which is more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV rays. Always wear a hat and sunglasses when you are out in the sun and seek shade, especially in the middle of the day.  

Tanning beds also give off UV rays, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, designated ultraviolet tanning devices in their list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances.  Those who use tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have not used a tanning bed.  Tanning beds also increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 2.5 times and basal cell carcinoma by 1.5 times. Still, nearly 2.3 million American teenagers use tanning beds every year! 

Make sure your family understands the facts before working on their tans this year.

More information is available from three Ohio State University Extension fact sheets:
More detailed information can be found at: 
This article originally appeared in Family Fundamentals (4/22/2008), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

For more information:

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Last Reviewed: Jul 10, 2009

Patricia Brinkman, MS, Ext. Education, FCS/CED
Assistant Professor
Ohio State University Extension County Operations
College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Science
The Ohio State University