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Why Tanning at the Gym is Bad for your Health

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canada, with new cases occurring at almost the same rate as lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers combined.Nova Scotians have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country. Nova Scotia women have the highest rate of new melanoma cases in Canada, while Nova Scotia men have the second-highest rate.

All tanning is harmful to your health, no matter if you sunbathe or use indoor tanning equipment. Any exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage your health over time, leading to premature skin aging (wrinkles and brown spots) and skin cancer.

Since the damage from tanning is cumulative, introducing yourself to UV radiation during the winter months adds to the sun exposure you already get in the summer, increasing your risk of melanoma. Using indoor tanning equipment before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent; indoor tanning equipment is actually classified as a Group 1 carcinogen because of its link to causing cancer.

Yet despite the known risks of indoor tanning, surveys show that tanning equipment use remains high. In 2014, about 1.35 million Canadians reported using indoor tanning equipment in the past year, with young women the biggest users.

Unhealthy health clubs

To help reduce skin cancer rates, it’s key to shift the pro-tanning culture that exists today in Nova Scotia.

One concerning trend is health clubs and gyms across the province that offer both exercise and indoor tanning. A recent survey of Nova Scotian fitness facilities found 13 businesses offering indoor tanning under the same roof as exercise centres. In other cases, tanning salons and exercise centres, owned by the same company, were located just metres apart. Facilities like this exist province-wide and range from small, independent operations to large national chains.

Don’t feel the burn

Many health clubs in Nova Scotia offer financial incentives that make tanning more accessible, including unlimited tanning and reduced rates, such as 25 percent off tanning with a year-long gym membership.

One Canadian fitness chain even promotes a special deal for new users: if you’re new to tanning, your first tan is free. These monetary incentives may increase tanning use, which raises the rates of harmful UV radiation exposure among Nova Scotians.

All tanning is unsafe

One Nova Scotia fitness club advertises the so-called benefits of tanning on its website, claiming that people can tan responsibly in moderation. Statements like this are not supported by the Canadian Cancer Society.

All exposure to indoor tanning is unsafe and puts you at risk of developing skin cancer.

Baseless base tan claims

Be wary of false claims from tanning salons about needing a base tan in an indoor environment to prepare for sun exposure. One survey by Sun Smart Saskatchewan found that 82 percent of 15 to 17-year-olds reported that they tan for protection from sunburns.

Indoor tanning cannot protect from sunburns. In studies, base tans only provide the equivalent of SPF 3 sunscreen. Other statements by tanning salons and gyms describing the safety of indoor tanning are also untrue: all indoor tanning damages the skin and provides minimal sun protection, ultimately causing harm.

No healthy glow

Statistics from across the country show that Canadian youth and adults tan to feel healthy, look healthy, and appear more attractive – many of the same reasons why people exercise.

The desire to feel more attractive may override long-term health concerns, such as getting skin cancer, leading to more tanning among people who understand the risks. Since people tan for the same reasons they exercise, fitness clubs that offer both services may be increasing tanning in Nova Scotia. Such establishments are endorsing “safe” or “healthy” exposure to a known carcinogen.

The ugly truth

When health clubs offer tanning services, their patrons may assume that tanning beds are safe and part of individual health promotion, when the opposite is true.

While Nova Scotian adults may continue to pursue indoor tanning despite the known risks, health clubs should stop offering these services if they truly value the health of their clients over financial gain.

M.D. candidate Scott Haslam resides in Halifax and is a third-year medical student at Dalhousie University.

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