Tanners get warning
Tanning weather almost here

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 29/98) - Dedicated sun-worshippers have been spotted around town, already topless even though it is still April.

But for those aspiring for a glowing all-over deep tan, the NWT's chief medical officer, Andre Corriveau, has some advice: go slow.

"I think it's important at the beginning to start slowly and develop your tan instead of trying to rush through," Corriveau said.

This is because sunburns are the most common cause of skin cancer and gradual tanning can help your skin build a resistance to the really harmful burns.

"There is no threshold so there is no safe limit. The more exposed skin you have the more your risk is going up. You'll never reduce your risk to zero."

People with darker skin are safer than those with paler complexion, whose skin burns more easily.

"Most aboriginal people tend to have less risk because their skin is darker," Corriveau said.

Northerners have heard the familiar refrain to tan outside the 9 a.m.-through-3 p.m. window and to slip on clothing, slap on a wide-brimmed hat and slop on sunscreen with a sun protection factor of more than 15.

But Northerners have shown they have less to worry about than Southerners.

"The environment that we live in is still relatively lower in relation to UV light," Corriveau said.

"In terms of melanoma for example, I think we've only had nine cases in the nine years between 1988 and 1996."

At the poles the sun's rays hit the Earth at an angle so they must travel through more of the atmosphere on the way to the NWT. This means more of the harmful UV rays are screened out before they get to our bodies.

"We always have the lowest UV index of all of Canada," Corriveau pointed out.

The Northern summer also includes a much shorter time span when people would feel comfortable exposing themselves to the elements.

And then there are the bugs, which can be such a nuisance they drive people indoors or into clothing.

But as Corriveau is quick to stress, skin cancer is always a risk.

Melanoma is the most feared and the most serious form of skin cancer because it has the ability to spread to other organs.

Melanoma looks like a mole at first, but one that changes color, shape and size or becomes itchy and bleeds.

If the affected cells are on new skin, it'll look like an ordinary mole at first.

On the bright side, tanning nourishes your body with vitamin D, a vital nutrient that 30 per cent of Canadians aren't getting enough of.

But Corriveau is a tough sell on this one.

"You need about 20 minutes a day to get your vitamin D," he said.

"I think you can get energized on a sunny day when the stimulation is also visual and you can still wear clothes and get energized that way."

Aside from the risk of skin cancer, tanning can break down fibres in the skin by affecting connective tissue under the skin's surface. This causes wrinkling and sagging over the years.

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