It happens every year: young Canadians who are planning to head south for Spring Break head to their local tanning salon to try to get a "base tan" before hitting the beach, in hopes it will help to protect them from sunburn.

But the Canadian Cancer Society wants them to know that not only will a visit to a tanning booth put them at risk of skin cancer, the "base tan" concept is a myth.

A new poll commissioned by the Canadian Cancer Society's Ontario division shows that 49 per cent of students in Ontario and 36 per cent of those aged 18-29 falsely believe that using indoor tanning equipment to get a so-called "base tan" before going on a winter sun vacation protects from sunburn.

In fact, the Cancer Society says, a tan offers almost no protection from sunlight or burning. What's more, some tanning beds can expose skin to five times more radiation than the sun.

"We're concerned that too many Ontarians continue to seek a tan, especially before and during a winter vacation in a sunny climate," says Dr. Loraine Marrett, co-chair Ontario Sun Safety Working Group and director of Surveillance, Prevention and Cancer Control at Cancer Care Ontario.

"There is simply no safe way to get a tan."

The Society says that any amount of exposure to UV rays, no matter what the type, can be harmful, as it causes DNA damage that increases a person's cancer risk. And any use of indoor tanning equipment before the age of 35 has been found to increase the risk of melanoma by 75 per cent, the agency says.

The Environics survey also found that more than half of respondents (51 per cent) believe people look more attractive and healthier with a tan.

Interestingly, younger Canadians attitudes about tanning differ from their parents' and grandparents' generations. Older adults were more likely than younger age groups to attribute healthy looks to a suntan -- 66 per cent of those 75-plus, versus 41 per cent of those aged 18 to 29.

"We need to work towards a social norm that does not include a tan as a sign of beauty or health," Salima Allibhai-Hussein, Senior Manager of Prevention at the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division, said in a news release.

"Aside from legislation to protect youth, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the cancer risk of UV radiation, from both sun and tanning equipment."