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This Is Just How Unsafe It Is To Go Tanning In 2023

Welcome to Sun Blocked, Refinery29’s global call to action to wake up to the serious dangers of tanning. No lectures or shaming, we promise. Instead, our goal is to arm you with the facts you need to protect your skin to the best of your ability, because there’s no such thing as safe sun. 
Like our own personal coat of armor, our skin shields us from the worst of the outside world, acting as a barrier against infection, injury and extreme temperatures. It's no wonder we sink so much money into taking care of it. Statista, an online platform specialising in market and consumer data, shows that skin care dominates the beauty industry, accounting for 41% of the global market, and the category is predicted to generate up to $189.3 billion by 2025. But it doesn't matter how much we spend on epidermal growth factors and retinol serums if we're not protecting our skin against irreversible damage from ultraviolet light, the radiation emitted by natural sunlight and artificial devices like sunbeds.
As Refinery29’s acting beauty director, I’m lucky to have access to dermatologists who have taught me to invest in sun protection, such as wearing sunscreen on a daily basis and avoiding too much sun exposure. But a recent conversation with a friend was something of an eye-opener for me. As she drew attention to her uncomfortably red-looking skin, she revealed that she hadn't just got back from a vacation but rather a tanning shop two yards down the street, where she had spent the last 20 minutes on a sunbed. The next day, I came across a grisly statistic from the Skin Cancer Foundation: Just one indoor tanning session before the age of 35 is reported to increase your chance of melanoma skin cancer by a staggering 75%. 
My friend isn’t alone, though. The hashtag #tanningbed has an enormous 296 million views and counting on TikTok. There, you’ll see predominantly young women sharing tanning tips or talking about the supposed skin benefits of sunbeds. (To be clear, there are none.) I’m not telling you this story to shame my friend — or any of us for that matter. But our collective nonchalance towards sun safety and the impact of UV is a growing cause for concern among doctors, dermatologists and skin cancer charities. Research by the British Association of Dermatologists shows that 84% of British people have an unhealthy relationship with tanning. It's a similar story on the other side of the Atlantic: A 2023 survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 40% of Gen Z adults are unaware of tanning risks while 59% believe tanning myths, such as tanning is healthy and that getting a 'base tan' will prevent sunburn. More alarmingly, 20% of those surveyed said that getting a tan is more important to them than preventing skin cancer.  

Just one indoor tanning session before the age of 35 is reported to increase your chance of melanoma skin cancer by a staggering 75%.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the US than all other cancers combined. Most non-melanoma skin cancers (a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin) and a large percentage of the more life-threatening melanoma skin cancers (a type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body) are associated with exposure to UV rays, whether from natural sunlight or artificial tanning. When it comes to sunbeds in particular, the NHS reports that young people are most at risk. In women, skin cancer incidence rates steadily increase from around the age of 20 to 24, and diagnosis is 2.7 times higher in women than men among this demographic. 
Social media is at least partly guilty of fueling the misinformation surrounding tanning and UV exposure. TikTok, as aforementioned, is awash with videos detailing the supposed 'benefits' of sunbathing and artificial tanning, including 'curing' seasonal affective disorder (SAD), boosting metabolism, decreasing stress and treating skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. Dermatologists we spoke to for this campaign said that in most instances, there is very little to no evidence to support these claims. (We'll explore this in more detail later in the week.) However, there is plenty of research to prove the link between UV exposure, skin damage and skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation emphasises that there is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan; the deepened color is actually a sign that your skin has been damaged by too much UV exposure. Regardless of your skin tone, the charity reports that tanning (whether indoors or outdoors) harms all types of skin.
This dangerous abundance of tanning myths and misconceptions helped bring to fruition Sun Blocked: a global call-to-action to wake up to the detrimental impact of sun exposure. We’re also urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban sunbeds once and for all. Research by the University of Manchester showed that an outright ban on indoor tanning would reduce cases of melanoma and result in fewer melanoma deaths. With so many people at risk, things need to change. 

There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan; the deepened color is actually a sign that your skin has been damaged by too much UV exposure.

With support from our partners the British Skin Foundation, the Skin Cancer Foundation, the Melanoma Research Alliance and dermatologists, we'll explore the difficult truths of living with skin cancer at a young age and bust the sunscreen and tanning myths that see innumerable young people take a gamble on their skin. That’s just a handful of stories in our lineup of content, which will roll out over the summer. There’s also our adjacent shopping hub, Sun Safe Central, which rounds up the best R29 editor-reviewed self-tanners that impart a glow without the skin damage, the most stylish clothing and accessories to keep you protected in the sun, and sunscreens for all skin types and tones. Remember: The American Academy of Dermatology says that people of all colors, even those with brown and black skin, can get skin cancer and should wear sunscreen. Black patients with melanoma are estimated to have a five-year melanoma survival rate of 70%, compared to 94% for white patients.
Our coverage won't stop when the days get shorter. Practising sun safety isn't exclusive to the summer months or beach vacations. Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate cloud cover, according to a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. There is even some research suggesting that cloudy days can actually increase UV radiation and, subsequently, skin damage. Think of Sun Blocked as your year-round defence against the hazards of UV. We’re not here to lecture or shame — Refinery29’s goal is to arm you with the facts and supply the information you need to safeguard your skin to the best of your ability. 
Considering the skin is your body's largest and most protective organ, it deserves that much.

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