06/01/2012 12:33 pm ET Updated Aug 01, 2012

Suntan Bed Dangers: The 'Stupid Light' Is On

Not very long ago, society people were pale, and outdoor workers had suntans. For whatever reason, society reversed the trend, and now it is fashionable to have a dark tan.

Movie stars led the way. George Hamilton was so fond of tanning on his days off that it must have played havoc for the films' continuity! Today, icons like Paris Hilton continue the trend.

A generation ago teens would lie out in the sun for hours and use no protective sun lotions. Worse, they would use baby oil, sometimes tinged with iodine to enhance absorption, in order to get a faster tan. Lotions and oils were sold for tanning, but not for screening.

When Christmas and New Year's holidays came, students who went south for the sun would actually try to stay a couple of extra days in order for their tans to last further into the new term back at school.

Then dermatologists started reporting the obvious. Sun exposure and tanning was horrible for the skin. Not just for reasons of skin cancers like melanoma, but for cosmetic reasons. The price of burned skin is premature aging.

We are now seeing signs of permanent damage in younger adults, hence the rise of procedures such as chemical or laser peels, dermabrasion, injections into the face and lips, and face-lift surgeries.

Here are a few facts that might help change your mind before sunbathing or using a suntan bed.

1. The tanning-bed suntan before a beach holiday does not protect you from sun damage. Even with a great tan, you are fully exposed to risk when bare skin is in the sun or UV lamp light.

2. The suntan from a bottle or spray lasts about as long as a real tan, and doesn't flake during the second week. And of course it can be reapplied at regular intervals, unlike having to take a trip to the tropics every couple of weeks. Also, the fake tan is indistinguishable from the tan gained under the sun or lamps.

3. Skin cancer (basal cell cancer and melanoma being salient) risks are increased in those who tan before the age of 30.

4. Tanning beds (and of course tanning in real rays) has been ranked with asbestos and cigarettes as a cancer risk.

5. In addition to dangers of cancer (to which most young tanners feel imune), consider the cosmetic consequences, like splotches of discolored skin, increased moles, permanent wrinkles on the lips and face, and even thinning and sagging of the skin.

6. If you must be out in the sun, cover up with a hat and use a high SPF sunscreen. Reapply as needed. Also avoid the brightest part of the day if you have a choice; stay in the shade during the midday sun.

For more on beauty and skin, click here.

For more by Peter G. Hanson, M.D., click here.