At an event hosted by the St. Olaf Cancer Connection, sports psychologist David Asp and his wife Kathie, a nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic, spoke to a crowd of students on Wednesday, April 13 about the dangers of sun exposure. Fittingly, his lecture fell on one of the first warm, sunny days campus had seen in awhile.
“Most of us enjoy a beautiful sunny day like today, and there are certainly many benefits of sunshine. Our culture tends to project the image that sun is healthy and that a tan body is somehow better, healthy and more beautiful than a white body,” Asp said. “And so many people, many of us spend hours out in the sun or going to tanning booths to try to get their skin tan. But what we’ve learned however, is that the trend is dangerous.”
Asp works as a sports psychologist in Red Wing, Minn. He is a three-time IronMan triathlon finisher and a stage four melanoma cancer patient. He also works to raise awareness of the dangers of ultraviolet radiation and how to prevent the consequences of sun exposure. During his lecture, Asp stressed that you don’t have to be a frequent visitor of tanning beds or the beach to get skin cancer.
“I was never one that enjoyed laying out in the sun for long periods of time. I think I’m too hyper for that. I never used a tanning booth. But for 20 some years I was out on long bike rides, long runs training for marathons, training for IronMan competitions and a host of other epic adventures,” Asp said. “Unknowingly, I was out in the sun with no sunscreen, I had fair skin and I have a history of skin cancer in my family which I now know puts me at really high risk.”
Both Asp and his wife shared alarming statistics about melanoma. The rates of melanoma are growing rapidly and show no signs of slowing down, in part due to the popularity of tanning beds. Asp stresses that any tan at all is harmful.
“The problem is that repeated UV ray exposure is accumulating, and so the risk of skin cancer goes higher. So going to a tanning bed or going out in the sun to get a base tan is really a myth. The fact is that there really is no such thing as a safe or protected tan. Because any tan at all is a sign of skin damage. And indoor tanners, people who use tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop a skin cancer like melanoma than those who do not,” Asp said.
Asp also warned that even a single blistering sunburn in childhood can increase one’s risk for skin cancer.
“One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life. More than five sunburns at any age – your risk of melanoma doubles. And a survivor of melanoma is nine times more likely to develop another melanoma,” he said.
Asp also debunked a few myths about tanning, including the myth that tanning indoors in a tanning bed is safer than tanning outdoors.
“Unfortunately, the fact is that it is a controlled dose, but it’s a much higher dose, it’s a much higher lamp radiation … the exposure is equal to 12 times that of normal sun exposure,” he said.
Asp also offered some helpful advice to protect oneself from the sun, such as wearing enough sunscreen.
“The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that we use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. An SPF of 30 means that it will take 30 times longer for the UVB rays to redden your skin. It also protects you against 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. It’s also important to get broad-spectrum sunscreen because broad-spectrum provides protections against the UVA rays and the UVB rays. Basically the UVA rays are the longer rays that cause skin damage but they really cause skin aging. The UVB rays are the shorter UV rays that cause a sunburn,” Asp said. “There’s no published data that indicates that heavy use of sunscreen has a negative effect on humans, so you’re safe.”