KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Lindsey Barnard is a tanning consultant at North Shore Sun in Knoxville. Depending on her mood, she tans in beds or sprays on a faux glow. All, she said, in an effort to *protect her skin.
"The overall goal is to not get burned. So you really want to build up a base tan, before your go out in the sun," she said.
Barnard, like millions of people, is trying to maintain a "healthy" glow all year round. Tan has become a sign of beauty. Americans are also taking more sunny vacations and wearing less clothing on the beach.
"The culture places beauty on tans, and it actually is deadly," said Dr. Jim Lewis, a surgical oncologist at UT's Cancer Institute.
A tan is actually your body's defense mechanism against UV exposure. It's producing melanin as DNA in the skin cells is damaged by the sun's rays.
"There is no safe tan," added Dr. Lewis.
Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have increased more than six-fold and it's the number one cancer found in women age 26 to 29.
Dr. Lewis continued, "Melanoma has the ability to invade deep into the tissue and get to the lymphatics and spread that way."
So are there safe alternatives to the sun? Dr. Lewis said spray tans and bronzing creams are your best bet.
"It's a good alternative to get an even, nice look," said Barnard.
But, Dr. Lewis added, there's no magic bullet.
"Those are relatively new on the market. So they should be looked at as well as all products like that by the FDA," he said.
But Barnard believes, "If people are wanting to have color, they're going to tan no matter what the critics say."
A practice Dr. Lewis says could cost your life.
To better protect your skin, Dr. Lewis told us always wear SPF 30 or higher, avoid peak hours in the sun, and wear sun protective clothing.