Q: Can I prevent sunburn by getting a base tan before I hit the beach?
A: Many people like to hop in the tanning bed before they hit the beach or pool, hoping that a base tan can prevent sunburn. Unfortunately, this ritual is like fighting fire with fire. No matter where you get tan, dark skin equals skin damaged.
The skin darkening you receive from a tanning bed only offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1-4. This SPF is hardly enough to protect you from the sun. Also, because tanners receive UVA rays in a tanning bed, a tan will not protect from the UVB rays received from the sun that cause skin redness and DNA damage.
Skin damage promotes premature skin aging and increases the risk for skin cancer. In fact, young people who use tanning beds have a 69 percent increased chance of getting early-onset basal cell carcinoma, a common skin cancer. Skin damage can also lead to melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 29 and the second most common cancer among people ages 15 to 29.
If you want to prevent skin cancer, eliminate the use of tanning beds, wear sunscreen outdoors and conduct regular skin self-exams. If you still want a sun-kissed look without the risk, consider using a sunless tanning spray or lotion.
Dr. Appathurai Balamurugan is chief resident in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Email your health questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.