The perils of indoor tanning

indoor tanning graphic blog

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

DCMF’s mission is to save lives from melanoma through prevention and research. On the prevention side, we are committed to empowering people to protect and check their skin to reduce their risk of melanoma. Due to deeply rooted social and fashion norms, convincing people to protect their skin from the sun is no small task. Convincing people to stop indoor tanning is just as difficult.

Why are we concerned about indoor tanning? Simply put, we are concerned because indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma. In fact, one study demonstrates that people who have ever used indoor tanning equipment have a 74% chance of developing melanoma compared with those who did not tan indoors. The study also demonstrated that the risk of melanoma is consistently higher among those who started using indoor tanning at a young age and among frequent users. The link between melanoma and indoor tanning is so clear that in 2009, the World Health Organization classified indoor tanning devices as Class I human carcinogens, on par with tobacco and asbestos.

Despite these troubling facts, indoor tanning remains prevalent, especially among young women. In Canada, a recent study revealed that more than 25% of women aged 16 to 24 tan indoors. In the U.S., nearly one out of every three young white women aged 16 to 25 uses indoor tanning.  Further, 13% of American high school students tanned indoors in 2012.  Worldwide, a 2014 study revealed, that there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking.

We are very encouraged that legislation around the world is emerging to protect people from indoor tanning. This includes bans for youth under 18 and health warning labels. Although very promising, most jurisdictions still lack formal legislation, leaving many people, and especially young people, with full access to indoor tanning.

The disconnect between the serious health risks of indoor tanning and its regular usage by many is puzzling leading us to wonder:

  • Are the health messages that explain the risks of indoor tanning not reaching people?
  • Are these health messages not compelling enough?
  • Are people driven to tan indoors because of myths such as ‘base tans’ providing protection from the sun?
  • Are the perceived short-term ‘beauty benefits’ of a tan considered more important than the long-term health risks?
  • How do we correct the myth that indoor tanning is a ‘safe way to tan’.
  • How can we empower people to refrain from using indoor tanning in advance of their prom or vacation?
  • What does it take for someone to change their behaviour and step out of the tanning bed for good?

What we do know for certain is that no tan is worth the risk of melanoma. We also know attitudes towards tanning need to change so that people can ‘love the skin they are in’. DCMF will continue our efforts to help others feel the same way.


Don’t forget to check

Written by : Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

Check your skin image

We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning to reduce the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. Equally important for the prevention of melanoma is early detection through checking your skin and reporting changes to your doctor.

Checking your skin is important for all skin cancers but it is particularly important for melanoma. This is because 98% of melanoma cases are treatable if caught early. If diagnosed in a more advanced stage, however, patients have less than a 10% chance of surviving more than five years (American Cancer Society).

What does checking your skin actually mean?

  1. Awareness of the need to check your skin: Taking care of your skin begins with an awareness of the importance to check your skin and a commitment to do so monthly.
  2. Knowing what to look for: Actively checking your skin means searching for changes. The ABCDEs of melanoma provide a useful guide on what changes to look out for.
  3. Monthly skin check: For 10 minutes every month, grab a mirror and follow our how to check your skin instructions.
  4. Reporting changes to your doctor: Any change in your skin should be reported to your doctor to maximize the chance for early diagnosis and treatment in case of a skin cancer diagnosis.

Although these 4 steps are simple, following them all on a regular basis requires a concerted effort. At DCMF, we want to understand how we can not only educate people on why and how they need to check their skin, but also motivate them to actually make skin checks a part of their health routine. How can we translate knowledge into action?

When we made our award-winning melanoma awareness video ‘Dear 16 Year Old Me’ in 2011, our goal was to inform people about melanoma and the importance of protecting and checking their skin. With over 7 million views on YouTube alone, we know we have increased awareness significantly.

Based on numerous messages from viewers around the world, we have learned that Dear 16 Year Old Me has also continued to motivate people to make the commitment to do monthly skin checks:

“I am an 18-year-old lifeguard at a local pool in my hometown…When your video popped up on my newsfeed, I watched it twice…immediately after watching the second time, I checked my entire body like you described on your website and I am planning on doing so often. I also plan on using sunscreen almost obsessively- pale skin is better than a scar and the possibility of death. I am very sorry for the loss of David Cornfield, but you can be assured that the organization in his name has possibly saved at least one life. I plan to share the video’s message with my friends and especially my coworkers, because it will probably help the lifeguards most of all. Thanks for a powerful wakeup call.”

Even more remarkable are the numerous messages that we continue to receive from viewers who credit Dear 16 Year Old Me for saving their lives as their skin check lead to an early melanoma diagnosis.

“I just want to thank you so much for doing this video. I saw it about a month ago, made a dr. appointment and they just called with the biopsy results. They caught a pre-cancerous Melanoma on my back and I will have the surrounding area removed next week. The nurse said I was so lucky to catch it this early. I can’t thank you enough and my three young children can’t thank you enough. This video truly saves lives.”

“I watched this video for the first time … last spring.  It caused me to get a suspicious mole checked out.  I found out my wife was pregnant with our 3rd child in October and in November found out that mole was early in situ Malignant Melanoma.  This video likely saved my life; I’m not one to go to the doctors.  It’s now December and I’m looking forward to enjoying my family for a long time to come.”

Dear 16 Year Old Me has proven to be a powerful tool to increase awareness and encourage early detection. It has demonstrated that knowledge turned into action can actually save lives from melanoma.

We invite you to watch and share Dear 16 Year Old Me to continue to spread the important knowledge that melanoma can be prevented. We also encourage you to check your skin every month and report any changes to your doctor. We, in turn, will continue to seek ways to inform and hopefully motivate people to make a commitment to protecting and checking their skin.


Did yesterday mark the beginning of a new era in the fight against skin cancer?

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund

We may have witnessed a watershed moment yesterday with the launch of the US Surgeon General’s ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’. This report could signal the beginning of a true commitment to combating skin cancer in the United States. It labels skin cancer as a ‘major public health problem’ that must be acted upon with urgency, and it aims to galvanize individuals, families and multiple sectors to address skin cancer head-on.

The potential impact of this report should not be underestimated: past U.S. Surgeon General reports, particularly the reports on tobacco, have been the catalyst for commitment and action on serious public health issues, nationally and internationally. With this report, the US Surgeon General has brought skin cancer prevention to the forefront. This is unprecedented.

The ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ is forceful and comprehensive. Five goals are outlined:

  • Goal 1: Increase Opportunities for Sun Protection in Outdoor Settings
  • Goal 2: Provide Individuals with the Information They Need to Make Informed, Healthy Choices About UV Exposure
  • Goal 3: Promote Policies that Advance the National Goal of Preventing Skin Cancer
  • Goal 4: Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning
  • Goal 5: Strengthen Research, Surveillance, Monitoring, and Evaluation Related to Skin Cancer Prevention

Each Goal is accompanied by specific strategies, which, together, map out a multi-sectoral plan of action.

DCMF commends the U.S. Surgeon General for challenging us all to combat skin cancer. Although focused on the U.S., this influential and descriptive call to action is informed by international successes and can serve as a guide for health leaders around the world. We agree with the Surgeon General that achieving these goals will not be a small task, but we are hopeful that the ‘Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer’ will mark the beginning of a new era in the fight against skin cancer.

For the full report and resources visit: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/prevent-skin-cancer/index.html

Wrapping up Melanoma Awareness Month

protect and check 1

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF

It’s been a great Melanoma Awareness Month at DCMF. Our award winning video Dear 16 Year Old Me, was profiled on NBC’s The Today Show on Melanoma Monday and passed 7 million views on YouTube, and we celebrated a very successful annual fundraising event on May 13 with our most loyal supporters.

We know our efforts, and those of all our partners and friends in the melanoma community, are helping to increase awareness of melanoma. The question is, are they helping enough?

When people ask me where I work, I say: The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund, a charity devoted to melanoma skin cancer prevention and research. I specifically add ‘skin cancer’ to the description because in my experience many people are not sure exactly what melanoma is or get it confused with other diseases.

This is not good news. If the term melanoma is not well known, surely the causes, severity and need for prevention are even less understood. If I asked the following questions to the general population I’m not sure how many could answer them correctly:

  1. What is the number one cancer in North America?

Skin cancer. Astonishingly, skin cancer accounts for almost the same number of new cancer cases as lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined. In 2014, an estimated 76,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 6,500 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Canada. As other cancers are decreasing in incidence, melanoma is increasing rapidly.

  1. Who does melanoma affect?

All skin types and all ages, including young people. People with many moles, fair skin, freckling, light hair, a family or personal history of melanoma or a weakened immune system are especially vulnerable.

  1. What causes melanoma?

The majority of melanoma cases are caused by over exposure to UV light from the sun and indoor tanning. One severe sunburn before the age of 18 doubles your chances of getting melanoma. Tanning bed use increases your risk of melanoma by 74%.

  1. Can you die from melanoma?

Yes, melanoma is the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer. In 2014, it was estimated that 1,050 Canadians will die from melanoma. In the USA, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

  1. What are the two most important things you can do to reduce your risk of melanoma?

PROTECT and CHECK your skin. Protect your skin from the sun with hats, long clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, shade, and reduce your time in the sun. Do not use indoor tanning equipment. Check your skin regularly and report any changes to your doctor. (Use these tools to help you check your skin).

With low awareness of these facts, I suppose it should be no surprise that prevention methods are currently half hearted. With a strong culture of tanning and a general complacency regarding prevention and early detection, we’ve got a lot work to do.

We know our efforts are worth it. We feel we have a responsibility to tell everyone that they have the power to avoid melanoma by protecting and checking their skin. We want to empower people to take the simple steps to stay healthy. To do that, we’ve decided to make every month melanoma awareness month! We hope you’ll join us!

 Every month is awareness

Are we risking our lives for fashion?

Coco Chanelwomen tanning 1920s

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF

While on vacation in the 1920’s, fashion icon Coco Chanel accidentally was sun burned, an accident that changed the course of fashion history. The suntan, previously associated with peasants and outdoor workers, was now deemed fashionable, luxurious and coveted. To emulate Coco Chanel, Westerners put away their whitening make-up, dropped their umbrellas and hats, stepped out from the shade and consciously tried to tan.

Almost one hundred years later, this desire for a tan has become an entrenched part of Western culture. Many Westerners go to great lengths, spending significant time and money, seeking ‘the perfect tan’. Today, indoor tanning is a multi-billion dollar industry, bronzing make-up and creams are staple products, and beach, pool and vacation culture all centre around tanning.

The notion of a tan as nothing more than a social and cultural construct was something I never considered until I went on a trip to China and Vietnam many years ago. I was surprised to observe that tanning was not the norm in these places. In fact, in both countries, people went to great lengths to avoid a tan. This was illustrated most strikingly while I was on a beach in Vietnam.  The Westerners were actively tanning in their bathing suits while the Vietnamese wore large hats, long clothing and even gloves and face masks to shield themselves from the sun. And at the airport in Hong Kong, make-up counters sold skin lighteners instead of skin bronzers.

These Western and Eastern examples illustrate the enormous impact that fashion and social conventions have on skin care.  Unfortunately, for us in the Western world, our desire for a tan comes at a severe health cost.While most Westerners equate a tan with beauty and leisure, health experts equate the tan with skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the number one cancer in Canada, and melanoma, the most serious and often fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing in incidence.

At DCMF, we know that people will only start protecting their skin when they believe they need to. We realize that, most dauntingly, our awareness efforts have to be compelling enough to challenge 100 years of fashion and cultural history. But we know that healthy un-tanned skin is beautiful and we are up for the challenge.

k_landry_02-13_vendor_-7indoor tanning

The flip side of the sunny winter get-away

Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, DCMF

We are deep in the heart of what’s been an exceptionally long, icy and cold winter in Toronto. Although I’ve loved a few amazing days of sledding, skating and playing in the snow with my children, I could have done without the extreme cold and icy conditions. In fact, I’m counting the days until we head down to Florida for a week of outdoor fun in the sun.

One of the reasons I love winter get-aways with my family is that they remind me of the sunny destination vacations I was fortunate to experience when I was growing up. I fondly remember endless days of swimming, sailing, playing tennis, building castles and snorkeling. These trips were a time to slow down and enjoy a bit of summer weather in the middle of our long Canadian winter, a time to read a great novel and an opportunity to spend quality time with my family.

Recently, however, a flip side of the wonderful nostalgia I have for these sunny winter trips is the realization that I experienced repeated extreme exposure to the sun throughout my childhood and adolescence. Yearning to warm up, eager to enjoy all aspects of the outdoors, I spent all day outside in the very hot and intense Florida or Caribbean sun.

Those were the 1970’s and 1980’s when applying ‘sun tan oil’ (I can still vividly remember that strong coconut smell) and ‘working on your tan’ were normal and expected behaviors. Although I tanned once in awhile, I was never one to ‘work on my tan’, choosing instead to enjoy a swim, run or snorkel. But the truth of the matter is that even though I wasn’t ‘tanning’, I probably spent the same amount of time in the sun as the die-hard tanners, receiving equal exposure and therefore equal skin damage.

I used sunscreen occasionally but it was usually only SPF 4 or 7, and wearing a great bathing suit was much more important than covering up with hats and clothing. As a result, over the years, I had several severe blistering sunburns, including painful burned feet and even a burned scalp after an unwise decision to get my hair braided.

I cringe when I think about the amount of repeated extreme exposure I received from the sun on these beloved winter getaways. I cringe because I know the following sobering facts about sun exposure and melanoma:

  • Melanoma is a common and serious form of skin cancer that can be fatal.
  • The primary cause of melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or indoor tanning equipment
  • The risk of melanoma is increased when you are exposed to intense intermittent sun such as that experienced on a sunny vacation
  • Light-coloured hair, eyes and skin (like mine) increase the risk of developing melanoma
  • The more severe blistering sunburns received as a child, the higher your risk of melanoma.

Today, I notice that more North Americans are taking steps to protect their skin during sunny vacations. That said, however, I continue to notice people actively tanning and people, including babies who are particularly sensitive to the sun, completely exposed in the blazing sun for extended periods of time.

As incidence of other cancers is starting to decline, melanoma’s incidence is actually increasing. In Canada in 2013, there were an estimated 6000 new cases and 1050 deaths. Particularly concerning is that melanoma is the second most common cancer among adults aged 15-29.

Fortunately, we have the power to change these statistics because remarkably, melanoma is preventable. After working in the area of cancer for many years, this fact continues to amaze and inspire me.

Since sun/UV exposure is the primary cause of melanoma, the best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is to protect your skin from the sun on your sunny vacation. Simply put, if you are in the sun, you need to protect every part of your body:

  • Protect your head with a hat
  • Protect your skin with long clothing
  • Protect your exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and reapply often
  • Protect your eyes with sun glasses
  • Protect your whole body under the shade of trees or a large umbrella and reduce your time in the sun between 11am and 4pm when UV rays are most powerful

We feel the toll of melanoma more than most at the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund. Eight years ago, David Cornfield, a beloved son, brother, father and friend, died of melanoma at the age of 32. We continue to feel his loss and we miss him dearly. We are deeply committed to honouring David’s wish to educate people that melanoma is preventable and we are eager to empower people to protect their skin.

I cannot change the amount of sun damage I received on my cherished childhood winter getaways. I can, however, protect my skin now to reduce further damage and to be a role model to my children, family and friends. I can also actively protect my children to make sure they look back on their winter getaways without cringing.

If you have a chance to travel south this winter, enjoy your trip, create some memories, but please remember to actively protect your skin!

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