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How to get a tan without getting skin cancer 

Baking in the sun

Skin cancer is a bitch. As the most common form of cancer, more than one million cases are diagnosed annually. In 2006 alone, the American Cancer Society estimated that 10,710 peopled died from the disease -- that's the equivalent of roughly half the student body at UNC-Charlotte. While these numbers are scary, what's even scarier is that 90 percent of all skin cancer cases are caused by sun exposure. What?! (Insert Lil' Jon's voice here.) Sun exposure? How can any of us avoid the sun? It's the big ball of fire that keeps our planet alive. Retraction: Skin cancer isn't a bitch, the sun is.

Since we're all exposed to the sun, we're all at risk of getting skin cancer. But there are things that some of us do that increase our chances of getting the disease, namely tanning. As a black girl, tanning has never been on my to-do list, but for some of you who are of a paler complexion, it has become a recreational activity.

So what are you to do if you're as light as a slice of Wonder Bread and want a nice, bronzy glow without getting skin cancer? Here are a few tips:

The Good Old-Fashioned Way: If you opt to get your tan by sunbathing, take the following precautions:

• Avoid laying out in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., since that's when cancer-inducing UV rays are at their strongest.

• Apply generous amounts of sunscreen with a high SPF rating (the higher the better) to prevent sunburns. Note: Avoiding sunburn is extremely important because one blistering sunburn during childhood more than doubles your chances of developing certain types of skin cancer later in life.

• Limit the amount of time you are exposed to the sun.

Tanning Beds: While tanning beds are a good way to tan without getting sunburned, they are not completely safe. In fact, most health experts agree that using tanning beds increases a person's risk of developing skin cancer. But if you already have a lifetime membership to Golden Tans and would rather risk getting skin cancer than waste your $275, there are a few benefits. You'll be able to control what kind of UV light you're exposed to, you won't get sunburned and your progress will be monitored by a professional (or, in some cases, by a 15-year-old kid who watched a video on how to operate the machines). When using tanning beds, do the following:

• Fill out a Skin Type Analysis Form with the tanning salon. This form is used to determine how your skin reacts to tanning.

• Tell the salon staff if you're taking medications because certain medicines affect your sensitivity to tanning beds.

• Protect your eyes by wearing a pair of FDA-regulated goggles.

• Limit the amount of time you spend in tanning beds.

Buy Tanning Pills on the Black Market: Tanning pills haven't been approved by the FDA yet, due to the fact that they are reported to cause liver and skin problems and have been attributed to one death. But the FDA didn't say anything about them causing skin cancer! So if you're interested, I know a great spot down in Tijuana where you can buy them in packs of 25 (as well as the best margaritas I've ever had in my life). Just let them know that Brooks sent you, and they'll hook you up.

Rub it On: For a sure fire way of getting a tan without getting skin cancer use sunless tanners. To use these simply:

• Exfoliate your skin with a body scrub to get rid of dead cells. This will help the tanner go on evenly.

• Completely dry your body.

• Apply the tanner using upward strokes on all parts of the body except the chest area. For the chest, apply using horizontal strokes for balanced coverage.

• Wait about 20 to 25 minutes for the tanner to set in and voilá! You have an instant tan.

Spray it On: Mystic Tan is another way to get a tan with no risk of getting skin cancer. All you do is:

• Cover your eyes and nasal passages and protect your lips.

• Step in a booth and stand for one minute as the spray covers your body with a harmless mist.

• Be sure not to inhale or ingest any of the mist, and you're good to go.

For more tips on tanning safely, visit www.safetanningtips.com.

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