Hours in the sun during peak UV periods? Check. Baby oil? Check. A total disregard for the increased risk even one severe burn poses on my overall lifetime risk of skin cancer? Double check. Ah, the sweet ignorance of being fifteen. What was I thinking? Like many, I wanted a golden glow. I really wasn’t equating tanned skin to damaged skin, a realization I’m now appreciating more than ever. As I prepare to celebrate my fourth decade next year, I can’t help but think 40 is only the new 30 if you’re smart at 15.
Judging by the group of girlfriends who would regularly join me in my backyard self-sabotage, I know I’m not alone. And after speaking with Sunnybrook patient Lindsey Beamish, who is ten years my junior, the allure of the tan is still alive and well. “I loved that healthy glow, I loved to look like I had been in the sun,” this former self-confessed sun worshipper told me. That was until she noticed a small mole on her thigh had become a bit red. “It wasn’t a scary looking mole,” she said. That made the news of skin cancer at 24-years-old even harder to believe.
“When this touched me five years ago, I thought, this can’t happen to me. And when I actually went to the cancer clinic, I was one of the youngest in there and thought, I shouldn’t be here!” But if you have skin, you’re at risk. Simple as that.
According to a recent poll from The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), 51% of Ontarians surveyed believe tanned people look more attractive. CCS experts say that perhaps the pop-culture “Snooki effect” of shows like Jersey Shore continues to feed our obsession with tanning. But the danger is how frequently skin cancers are being seen in a younger demographic. Their statistics show that skin cancer continues to be one of the biggest cancers for those aged 15 to 29.
To be safe, seek shade, avoid direct sunlight during peak UV periods and wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Sunnybrook dermatologist Dr. Kucy Pon recommends an SPF 30, which will protect you from about 97% of harmful UV rays. Just make sure you apply enough. You’ll need about a shot glass full to cover your body adequately (that must tie back to Jersey Shore somehow…)
Lindsey now takes five minutes every month to do a full head-to-toe body check to uncover any potential changes. And suntanning is no longer part of her vocabulary. We even conducted our interview in the shade of a large tree outside her office.
Besides the wisdom of hindsight, Lindsey and I now share a different passion: self-tanners and tinted moisturizers. They’re an easy and harmless way of getting golden without the health risks. And while some sunlight is an important way of getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D, sunscreen is now our second skin.