Expert Interview

Ask the Expert – Sunila Walia, M.D.

How bad are tanning beds? Are spray-on tans any better?

“Tanning beds are the worst thing in the world,” says Sunny Walia, assistant professor of dermatology and director of dermatologic laser surgery at George Washington University and volunteer for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “Getting so much intense UV light in such a short amount of time is awful for your skin.” But young women prowling for a tan are not easily dissuaded. “I’d rather people use self-tanners. They are much safer to use,” she adds. “They don’t cause these types of mutations in cells that can potentially cause cancer.”

If we all know that sun exposure causes skin cancer, why is it still on the rise?

Dr. Walia attributes the rise in skin cancer to three main factors:
1. Using tanning beds.
2. Forgetting to apply (or reapply) sunblock (especially after a swim in the pool or an afternoon of shopping)
3. Applying sunblock immediately before going into sun and not waiting 20-30 minutes for it to soak into the skin.

Why is it important to see a dermatologist?

“People should come in once a year for total body skin exams,” Dr. Walia explains. “Dermatologists may take digital pictures of their moles and teach patients how to track the growth and changes in their skin.” It’s vital that people become educated and aware of what to look for, she says, because individuals can check their skin monthly, catch changes in their skin early and then have the cancer removed before it does any more damage. And with annual skin exams being covered by many insurance carriers, most people with insurance have no excuse for skipping their appointments.