Radiation Is Radiation

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The sun tan … deliberately darkening one’s skin — naturally or via man-made pods — in some aesthetic pursuit (we’ll leave the sociological discussion of skin color to other blogs).  I don’t get it.  I don’t get why a dark tan somehow conveys youth and beauty and health.

But what I really don’t get though is that tanners don’t seem to get that tans are caused by radiation! Egads! We don’t want nuclear power plants built near our homes, we don’t want radioactive waste from said power plants ending up for all eternity near our homes.  And meltdowns — as with the recent Fukushima Daiichi catastrophic engineering failures — make for hours how news coverage and punditry and protests, which we enjoy from a distance.

Image courtesy of Flickr user keith011764 (CC)

But everyone knows that radiation is radiation, right?  Yes, there is a big difference between ionizing radiation (think nuclear p0wer plants and x-ray machines) and non-ionizing radiation (think visible light, microwaves and radio waves). Sure, radiation energy is a sliding scale. But the radiation that we’re talking about with tanning — ultraviolet light — is just barely on the “safe” side of the divide between ionizing energy like x-ray and gamma rays.

We know that radiation has the ability to damage biologic systems — the degree of damage depends on the type of and exposure to radiation.  The type of radiation that is typical in and around nuclear power plants has the power to break DNA bonds. UV radiation from tanning beds or a nice long day at the beach have the power to speed the aging process of skin and can even lead to cancer with enough exposure.

So I just don’t get how people can freak out about nuclear power plants or cyclotrons in one moment and then head off to catch a little radiation at the local tanning parlor.  Somebody’s missing an important point and I’m pretty sure that it’s not me.

Kerri Wachter

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Filed under Dermatology, Drug And Device Safety, IMNG, The Mole

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