With the sweltering temperatures of summer most of us are aware of the dangers that exercising in hot, humid conditions can have. We take precautions to stay hydrated and wear proper attire to avoid heat injury. A lot of us, however, don’t think about the long-term damage to our skin and overall health from sun exposure until it’s too late. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Of the three, melanoma is the most serious. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation comes from the sun and can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps.

UV exposure from the sun and from indoor tanning is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Along with cancer, UV damage can also cause cataracts, potentially blinding eye diseases and premature skin aging. The good news is that skin cancer can be prevented, and it can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early.

Tanning indoors is not safer than tanning in the sun. Indoor tanning exposes users to two types of intense levels of radiation from UV rays, UVA and UVB. Indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for younger users; people who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of getting melanoma. You can get a burn from tanning indoors, but even a tan without burning indicates damage to your skin. A base tan is not a safe tan. A tan is the body’s response to injury from UV rays. A base tan does little to protect you from future damage to your skin caused by UV exposure.

Although sun exposure is the most natural way to get vitamin D, indoor tanning is not a safe way to get it. Although it is important to get enough vitamin D, the safest way to do so is through what you eat. Tanning harms your skin, and the amount of UV exposure you need to get enough vitamin D is hard to measure because it is different for every person, and it also varies with the weather, geographical location and more.

The fitness clubs I owned and managed in the ’80s had tanning beds, and we marketed them as giving you that “healthy glow.” Fitness centers and tanning beds now seem like a contradiction, and most modern-day health clubs do not have them. If the mission of a gym is to bring its members toward healthier lifestyles, then why offer tanning bed services? I would never think about selling cigarettes, so why would I offer tanning? Thankfully, the number of indoor tanners has been on the decline since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obviously, most people now know it’s not a healthy thing to do, but they tan because they just feel they look better with a tan. Tanning is not healthy and, cancer aside, it won’t make you look good in the long run. UV rays create free radicals, which break down skin-firming collagen, and those same rays rev up melanin production, leading to brown spots, also known as sunspots or age spots. That means sagging skin, wrinkles, and discoloration. Ninety percent of the signs of visible aging come from unprotected excessive tanning. Unlike stopping smoking, which is highly addictive, exposing yourself to less tanning should be an easier healthy change to accomplish.

The best way to protect your skin from the sun is by using these tips for skin cancer prevention:

♦ Stay out of the sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

♦ Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Put on sunscreen every two hours and after you swim or sweat.

♦ Cover up with long sleeves and a hat.

♦ Check your skin once a month for changes

In my younger days I had the tanning “addiction.” Now when I take a relaxing trip to one of my favorite sun-drenched destinations like Edisto Beach, I’ll be taking in the other great sights it offers, instead of baking away under the sun. If you like the tanned look, there are more high-quality self-tanners on the market than ever before. You’ll be thankful 10 years from now when your skin is youthfully tight, and cancer-free.

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as an exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Email him at perry@ptgym.com. Follow @ptgym on Twitter.

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