Avera Medical Minute: Dangers of Tanning Beds

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (DAKOTA NEWS NOW) - Tasha Jones protects her skin now, but her desire for a golden glow started in preparation for a trip when she was 12.

AP_08120812747 tanning bed woman

"I had an addiction to tanning," said Jones. "We were getting ready to go on a family vacation where the sun was going to be more intense, and so we thought that I would build that base tan."

She loved the warmth of the tanning bed, the tan on her skin, something she craved.

"I would go from one salon. I would go the half-hour or the max time that salon would allow, with new bulbs when possible, and then I would go to another salon that same day, and do the same thing," said Jones.

But all that time in the tanning bed led to a diagnosis of melanoma. Tasha wishes she could go back and choose another route, but she wants to share her story now, to let you know, even one tanning session may be too many.

Avera Dermatologist Dr. Wesley Fletcher of Avera Medical Group in Pierre understands the draw of a tanning bed.

"If you've lived through a South Dakota winter, you understand why people want to feel warmer and feel darker and that makes them feel good," said Dr. Fletcher.

Dr. Fletcher agrees with Tasha. Damage can be done turning on the tanning bed the first time.

"One or more tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer, melanoma by 20 percent, Squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, and basal cell skin cancer by 29 percent," said Dr. Fletcher.

So what about the claim that spending some time in a tanning bed can help with vitamin D levels in your body?

"Most of the bulbs in tanning beds that we have around are UVA bulbs, the radiation we're getting in the tanning bed is not actually the type of energy that helps you absorb vitamin D," said Dr. Fletcher.

Building the base tan before a winter getaway can actually cause more damage.

"It does not give you any kind of defense against a sunburn really, it's just more radiation," said Dr. Fletcher.

And the growing concern is the feeling, the look and wanting more.

"It's about behavioral health. It's about what makes you feel better in the winter...behaviors that we have that help us feel better, and what the things that are self-destructive then we really get to the heart of preventing this type of behavior," said Dr. Fletcher.

Tasha says her melanoma appeared over ten years after she quit tanning in a salon. She protects her skin with sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and staying in the shade. Now her goal is to tell the next generation of the dangers of tanning beds.

"And I have kids too so they joke that I'm the sunscreen police, but it's so important I think that they start with good habits because there's a lot of outside pressure to have that glowing tan," said Jones.

Dr. Fletcher says indicators of skin cancer include an asymmetrical spot, changing or growing or getting darker.