updated 5/31/2009 12:31:31 PM ET 2009-05-31T16:31:31

It's easy to tune out warnings about the sun, but that won't do our skin any favors, according to the latest research. Soleil it on us.

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As surely as the sun rises in the east without fail every morning, dermatologists can be counted on to warn us to take cover from it. But now, those familiar cautions have some fresh research behind them — including news of a damaging type of sunlight other than UVA and UVB, and discoveries that your height, bank account, and medication use may predict your risk of skin cancer.

The big ‘safe tanning’ myth
Genetic tests indicate that “it may not be possible to elicit a tan without simultaneously producing mutations within DNA,” says David E. Fisher, chief of the department of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Translation: All tanning is a sign of damage. “Although much of the damage is repaired, eventually injury accumulates,” Fisher warns — and that can ultimately contribute to dark spots, wrinkles, roughness, or skin cancer.

Clear and present danger
New evidence points to “a genuine increase” in melanoma in recent decades that isn't simply attributable to earlier detection, says Eleni Linos, a scientist at Stanford University Hospital. Last year, the National Cancer Institute found that from 1980 to 2004, melanoma rates rose an alarming 50 percent among women ages 15 to 39. Twenty percent of people ages 18 to 39 report recently visiting a tanning bed, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. People who do so before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma than those who do not, research has found.

A hidden ager
Ultraviolet light aside, infrared radiation in sunlight increases levels of free radicals and collagen-destroying enzymes in the skin, according to Peter Schroeder of the Institute for Environmental Health Research at Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf in Germany. (The infrared dose from sun exposure is higher than what's emitted by LED phototherapy devices, which rejuvenate the skin, notes Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist in San Diego and founder of thedermblog.com.) Topical antioxidants can protect skin: A mixture of grape-seed extract, coenzyme Q10, and vitamins C and E cuts the damage from infrared by 60 percent, Schroeder found. Dark clothing and sunscreens with physical blockers (such as titanium dioxide) might also help, but those with chemical filters provide no infrared shield, he says.

Surprising links to skin cancer
Affluence raises melanoma risk, possibly because of additional sun exposure during vacations. Increased skin-cancer vulnerability is also associated with smoking, taller-than-average height, and use of sun-sensitizing drugs (such as antibiotics, diuretics, and ibuprofren) for at least one month in the past.

Double jeopardy
People who get nonmelanoma skin cancer have an increased likelihood of developing melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, or colon cancer. The younger someone is when the skin cancer is diagnosed, the higher the subsequent risk.

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