Skin cancer scares

Salons feel the burn as Canadian skin cancer rates rise while organizations expose the facts about tanning

Sun protection can help block harmful ultraviolet radiation which causes skin damage.
Sun protection can help block harmful ultraviolet radiation which causes skin damage.

Students and community groups are cracking down on tanning bed use, and local salons are feeling the pressure.

Earlier this month, Signatures Salon, located in the JDUC, indicated to the Journal that it removed its tanning beds because it was feeling pressure from anti-tanning campaigns in the media.

The on-campus salon has now shut down completely and will no longer occupy its space in the JDUC as of June 7.

It’s unclear whether the alleged loss of its tanning beds played a role in its closure.

“It was mutually agreed upon between Signatures, the University, the SGPS and the AMS that the business would no longer occupy that space, and it was time to look at possible other uses for that space,” Nicola Plummer, AMS vice-president of operations, told the Journal via email.

Although the AMS has no official stance on tanning beds, Plummer noted that should any new tenant wish to run a similar operation to Signatures, the AMS would make its concerns about tanning beds known.

Both the Kingston Area public health unit (KFL&A Public Health) as well as one student group have recently run campaigns that highlight the dangers of tanning.

Earlier in the month, Signatures said that tanning bed concerns had been all over the news and they had no problem removing them.

They are currently referring their tanning clients to The Beach Tanning Salon at Princess and Division Streets.

Signatures could not be reached for further comment.

Mike Wilson, manager of The Beach, said his industry has been hit hard with what he calls “false facts” cited by government campaigns and the media.

Wilson claimed that every article and advertisement put forth by KFL&A Public Health through its recently launched skin cancer campaign are completely false.

He also expressed his concern with the lack of consultation KFL&A, the city and some media outlets have had with him as a professional in his field.

“Their scare tactics are such a malicious attack to my industry,” Wilson told the Journal via email.

Some municipalities have banned tanning for those under the age of 18 — Oakville was the first Ontario city to do so.

According to KFL&A Public Health, in Kingston, public consultation will begin in June regarding the introduction of a similar bylaw. Wilson doesn’t support this idea and wants to know the reason behind the restrictions for those under 18.

“They don’t have one,” he said. “It’s just an all-out attack against the tanning industry to help fill the already-rich pockets of the sunscreen industry, pharmaceutical companies and the dermatologists who charge the big bucks for the people that tan for medical reasons.”

The Beach has been directly affected by the recent campaigns, said Wilson, whose customer base includes St. Lawrence College, RMC and Queen’s students.

“There is no profit in the business at this time and with City Council deciding on such an important issue that affects so many, I fear that the industry could collapse.” Wilson said he believes in the benefits of tanning, like getting one’s dose of vitamin D from the UVB light used in the beds.

“Like most things in life, in moderation, it’s a healthy way of living; a little sun and exercise will benefit us all.”

While vitamin D has been proven to be a good vitamin to take, the tan you get from absorbing UVA and UVB rays can be harmful to the body.

Exposure to this ultraviolet radiation is the number one natural cause for skin cancer and causes significant skin damage, according to Health Canada.

It’s preventable, but approximately 87,100 Canadians will be diagnosed with some type of skin cancer in a single year, according to a 2012 study done by the Canadian Cancer Society.

One of these Canadians is Caitlin Jones, a 24-year old who is the face of KFL&A Public Health’s recent campaign.

Jones visited tanning salons from the age of 16 until she was diagnosed.

“I started going tanning because it was what my friends were doing on our lunch break at school,” she told the Journal via email.

Although she was informed by others about the dangers of tanning, she chose to disregard it.

“I think it had something to do with self-esteem. I wanted to be tanned like other people,” she said. “Eventually if I didn’t go tanning, I felt pale and not as pretty as I felt when I was tanned.”

Jones came face-to-face with the ugly truth when she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most common kind of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Non-melanoma skin cancers, like what Jones was diagnosed with, are the least deadly types of skin cancers, but are the most common among Canadians.

An unusual cut on her forehead brought Jones to her doctor in June 2012. She said she waited a long time before seeking help.

“I knew that … it was not normal, but I didn’t immediately think skin cancer. It really hit home that it was possible though.”

Although her fears were real, the doctors found the cancer to be superficial and simple to remove.

Jones said she shared her story because she wants people to make informed decisions.

“I want people to know being tanned is not worth the possible consequences,” she said.

Christie Freeman, a family physician with a focused practice in dermatology, agrees.

Using tanning beds under the age of 30, even just once, she said, gives you a 50 per cent chance increase of developing melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.

Instead of going to the salon to get your dose of vitamin D, she suggests oral supplements.

“I would say it’s really easy to take vitamin D supplementation year-round; it’s going to be much more predictable in terms of how much you’re getting and ensuring you’re getting the adequate daily requirements.”

“Taking oral vitamin D supplements do not cause cancer and clearly tanning beds do,” she added.

Freeman said the rates of melanoma are climbing.

“We’re starting to see more and more melanoma in the 20s to 30s age group and especially among young women,” she added.

Freeman said she believes there are many factors as to why the younger generation is being affected. Ultraviolet radiation exposure definitely plays a role in this age group, as well as the increasingly trendy use of tanning beds.

She urged people to keep track of moles of or unhealing lesions on the body. If any changes happen over a short period of time, it’s important seek medical help.

Once melanoma spreads further into the body, Freeman said there are few treatments available to cure this cancer.

In terms of tanning beds, Freeman calls them “cancer machines” or “wrinkle machines.” “It seems to be in our younger years in particular, our body can undergo these mutations that are caused by ultraviolet light and sadly that’s when people are using tanning beds for the most part ... that’s when they can do the most harm,” she said.

“There is no such thing as a healthy tan,” she added. “A tan is a sign that you’ve damaged your skin.”

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