No tan fan

July 05, 2006

As myths go, those about beauty seem more impervious to facts than most.

Among the most stubborn at this time of year is that a tawny glow is a sign of good health and that tanning salons offer a safe way to bronze up.

Brittany Lietz, 21, of Edgewater, the newly crowned Miss Maryland, has made it her business to shatter such misconceptions.

Two and a half years of steady time on a tanning bed gave Ms. Lietz skin cancer by the time she was 20, she told the Annapolis Capital. A mole on her back grew and bled, and required 5 1/2 hours of surgery to remove. Two dozen smaller surgeries followed. Now scarred and alabaster-toned, she is spreading the word that the only safe tan comes from a can or a tube.

Her willingness to bare her surgical scars as part of sounding the alarm against sunbathing - natural or otherwise - bodes well for her chosen career in nursing, for which she won a $10,000 scholarship.

Statistics suggest Ms. Lietz' message, which doctors have been putting out for decades, isn't getting through. Cancer of the skin is the most common of all cancers, and it's on the rise. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 62,000 new cases this year of melanoma, the most deadly of skin cancers and the type Ms. Lietz developed. Men get it at twice the rate of women, and naturally dark-skinned people are also at risk, though less so than those with fair skin and red or blond hair. Yet melanoma and less-severe skin cancers are completely preventable by avoiding the UV rays that come from the sun and from tanning beds. Sunscreen, lip balm, hats, sleeves, wrap-around sunglasses - all protect the skin, though periods of exposure should also be limited.

For Ms. Lietz, the journey has been circular. She told The Capital she entered beauty pageants as an outlet for her lyric dancing and to earn money for nursing school. But she turned to tanning beds for that glow associated with healthy beauty, losing some measure of health and beauty in the process.

Now she has a well-earned platform to dispel the myths so others don't also have to learn the hard way.

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