Special Sections editor

There’s no other way to say it – tanned skin is damaged skin.

So unless your tan is coming out of a bottle, when your skin darkens it indicates damage from UV rays. And that’s true whether it’s been darkened by the sun or in a tanning bed.

It’s also true that damage can occur in only 15 minutes.

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, and it’s on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The greatest increase, says the CDC, is among young women. Some experts believe that’s because they use indoor tanning beds, which emit 10-15 times more UV radiation than the midday sun.

May is Melanoma Awareness Month, so listen up people and protect yourselves.

Minimize your risk

  • Limit exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. Especially stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Do not sunbathe or use tanning salons. There is no such thing as a safe tan.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a hat with a brim to shade your ears and neck, a shirt with sleeves to cover the shoulders and pants. The best fabric for skin protection has a tight weave to keep sunlight out.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 everyday. Look for one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

What to look for:

The American Cancer Society recommends periodic head-to-toe skin exams by your physician. You should also do your own body check to note any changes in moles, freckles and other skin lesions.

Skin cancers can have many different appearances. Generally, follow the “ABCDE” rule for danger signs:

Asymmetry: An irregular, uneven shape; a lesion that looks different on each half.

Border: Jagged or blurry edges.

Color: Various colors, often multicolored lesions of tan, dark brown or black, sometimes with pink or red, blue or white.

Diameter: 6 millimeters or larger (about the size of a pencil eraser).

Evolution: Any change in size, color or appearance.