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Young or old, there's nothing healthy about a tan

November 23, 2018

Young or old, there's nothing healthy about a tan

As a dermatologist I see a lot of damaged skin. I can still remember my first melanoma death. He was a young man in his thirties with three small children. It was a tragedy. You hear stories like his frequently when we start to talk about skin cancers - but the thing that really stirs me, is that these are cancers we can largely prevent. 

Our message to Australians this National Skin Cancer Action Week isn't new. It's about being sensible in the sun while you enjoy the amazing lifestyle Australia offers. This means: 

  • Wearing protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.  
  • Wearing a hat, not a cap, that's broad brimmed so the ears and neck are protected.  
  • Applying sunscreen - and making sure it's SPF30 or higher, broad spectrum and water resistant. Sunscreen needs to be applied before heading outdoors and reapplied every two hours or after swimming, sweating or towel drying. 
  • Seeking shade if you are outdoors and being clever in timing your activities so if possible, you don't get caught out during high UV periods. 
  • Wearing sunglasses to protect the skin around the eyes and your eyes too. 

It's about choosing not to sunbathe. People with olive skin can get skin cancer too. Regardless of skin type, exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause the skin to be permanently damaged. People with skin types that are less likely to burn can still receive enough UV exposure to risk developing skin cancer. Care still needs to be taken in the sun. 

New research released from Cancer Council's National Sun Protection Survey has shown that 38% of teens say they like to get a tan and girls proved to have a greater desire to tan, with 43% saying they prefer a tan. It's high time that we learnt to acknowledge our natural skin tones; and to value them. There is nothing healthy about a tan, it causes serious damage to your skin. It weathers it so that you get wrinkles and blotches; and bit by bit, each time you go in the sun unprotected, it adds up your skin cancer risk.  

That's why this week, as part of National Skin Cancer Action Week, the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council are asking every Australian, young or old, to #OwnYourTone

Melanoma is the most common cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24. Treatment for skin cancer isn't just a case of simply cutting it out - it can include disfiguring surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and more recently immunotherapy. Sadly, we don't always get them in time.  I would like to have less patients in this situation. 

I want to see the day when Australia no longer plays in to the stereotype that the typical Aussie is bronzed. Australians need to embrace their natural skin tone, no matter what their natural tone is, avoid tanning, be SunSmart and encourage their mates to do the same.  

Protecting yourself from skin cancer takes effort, you can't just do it once and be fixed for life - this is a lifetime project, but at the very least it's a lifesaving project.