Monday, June 6, 2011

Skin Deep

Most women do things that they believe will enhance their personal beauty. Even I have been known to hide my grey hair under a “Nice ‘N Easy” medium cool brown. And “Cover Girl” has taken more than a few of my hard earned dollars over the years. But do you know when to say when? Would you risk your life in the name beauty?

In our society, there are girls and women of all ages who believe the only way to feel accepted is to look like the women on magazine covers and on television, and will starve themselves in an attempt to attain an unrealistic, supermodel physique, regardless of the fact that their body type does not lend itself to the leggy, boy hipped, ultra thin style. In the past few years, eating disorders, such as anorexia, have become a serious problem among girls. People recognize the dangers accompanying the practice of such unhealthy behaviour, and I believe most people, (besides those in denial about their situation) upon seeing a friend or loved one heading down this path, would try to convince them that what they are doing is dangerous, and try to make them realize that if they don’t stop the behaviour, it could kill them.

That is the same reason why I try to convince people not to tan. Trying to look like Snooki from "Jersey Shore" is unhealthy, dangerous and if you don’t stop the behaviour, it could kill you!

When I was young I would tan believing it was good for me - that “healthy” glow – until I developed malignant melanoma. The irony does not escape me. Unfortunately, the cause and effects of skin cancer don’t seem to be fully understood by the general public.  I know some people who believe all that is required to rid yourself of melanoma is to have a tiny mole cut off and that is the end of it; just a little cosmetic surgery, no big deal.  They are shocked to see the large scar I brandish on the back of my right thigh, and to hear the stories I tell of others fighting for their lives against this disease.

Skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the world with melanoma being the most deadly form. Exposure to UV radiation, such as the sun and tanning beds increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Other risk factors include repeat sunburns in childhood, having fair skin, fair hair, many moles, and a family history of melanoma. I have dark hair, few moles and no family history, therefore, the major risk factor in my case was UV radiation from the sun.
It frustrates me that there seems to be a lack of knowledge about skin cancer among the general public, but more frustrating than the lack of knowledge is the apathy of those who do know - or those with feelings of invincibility - who continue to tan. Perhaps, in some cases, it is an addiction, as I have seen people with that almost orange, leathery look from multiple tanning bed sessions that is definitely not attractive, but more often they just don't seem to care.

Whenever I hear someone mention spending the afternoon outside specifically to get a tan, or see a Facebook status announcing a tanning bed appointment, it makes me cringe. Experience has shown me what the result of this behavior can be, but it is hard to convince others to change their mindset, even when the proof is staring them in the face. You are more likely to convince people to stop tanning by telling them it will cause pre-mature aging than by telling them it will cause cancer. It’s sad to see vanity trump health. And it is so disheartening to see this apathy when you know that, with a few precaution - use broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 and re-apply every two hours, wear a hat, sunglasses and cover up. Try to avoid being in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm - that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.

Even more unsettling to me is to see a child with severe sunburn. What are people thinking? Even if, for some uninformed reason, you think that tanning is not skin damage, why would you subject your child to the pain of sunburn when sunscreens are available in most every store?

Maybe it’s the lack of PR that has people in the dark…so to speak. The Skin Cancer Foundation doesn’t have anything like the instant recognition of the Breast Cancer Foundation’s pink ribbon, or the Lung Cancer Foundation’s graphic cigarette packages. Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide in okay, but most kids associate it with sunburn rather than skin cancer. What The Skin Cancer Foundation needs is something tangible...a mascot. Perhaps a sunglasses clad rodent named Melly the Mole to teach children the dangers of the sun....maybe not. But if we catch children young enough, perhaps instead of the steady increase of melanoma cases happening now, the incidence will start to decrease.

I know there are those of you who will continue to tan and that is your choice, but with any type of gambling, remember, you take your chances. The truth is that tanning is nothing more than skin damage and a dangerous perception of beauty. Now that you are informed, don’t let the cause and effect of societal peer pressure turn you into a cancer statistic.

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