There is a dark side of tanning

By on September 15, 2004

An increasing number of young women in the United States are craving that golden sun-kissed look. But instead of hitting the beach, or relaxing on a lawn chair by the swimming pool, they are avoiding the great outdoors altogether to get their tan.

Rather than spending an entire day basking in the sunshine, young women today are visiting indoor tanning salons to spend 15 minutes in a tanning booth. And not surprisingly to dermatologists, as the number of young people visiting tanning salons continues to increase, so do the cases of skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that 28 million Americans are tanning indoors annually at about 25,000 tanning salons around the country. As a result, the indoor tanning industry is a booming $2 billion-a-year industry.

The majority of tanning salon users are young women. In fact, nearly a third of white teenage girls have used tanning booths at least three times, and the use of tanning salons by people under the age of 25 more than tripled between 1996 and 2003, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (ADD).

Allison Schleck, an 18-year-old freshman at Quinnipiac University, first visited a tanning salon last May to get a tan for her high school prom. She continued to go two or three times a week over the summer to keep her tan but has not gone since and does not consider herself to be a sun worshiper.

“It’s hard for me to get a tan from natural sunlight, and that was the thing to do for the prom,” said Schleck, a Spanish and political science major from New Rochelle, N.Y. “I have lots of friends that go to tanning salons. Some don’t want to be white, and for others it just makes them happy.”

Most students interviewed at Quinnipiac have used tanning booths in the past. Like Schleck, 19-year-old freshman Diana Spiegle went to a tanning salon regularly during the month before her high school prom. Other than that however, she does not use tanning beds on a regular basis.

“Specifically for the prom, you have to look tan,” said Spiegle, an English major from Marmora, N.J. “To be honest, when you’re tanner, I think you look skinnier. Plus, it brings out more shadows in your face.”

Some students like to use tanning salons to get a base tan for the summer. A month ago, freshman Kelly Palmer, 18, used a tanning booth for the first time. She was happy with the results and despite being concerned with skin cancer, she said she would go again in the future.

“I’m always outside in the summer,” said Palmer, a nursing major from North Stonington, Conn. “I would only go back every now and then because I’d rather tan outside anyway.”

While tanning salons may be beneficial to one’s appearance in the short run, dermatologists are concerned with the long-term affects. According to the ADD, past studies have shown that tanning beds contribute to the incidence of melanoma, the most dangerous and rare form of skin cancer.

More recent studies in the journal of the Natural Cancer Institute indicate that the use of indoor tanning devices may also contribute to the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common forms of skin cancer.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says that more young adults are being diagnosed with skin cancer than ever before. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, yet many young adults feel invincible when it comes to developing cancer, a disease they associate with older people.

“I figure you’re probably going to get cancer from something anyway,” Schleck said. “Everything is good in moderation. I just went for that short period of time, so I honestly don’t think I’ll get skin cancer.”

The tanning industry claims that moderate tanning helps reduce sunburns and skin cancer. However, the Skin Cancer Foundation refutes that claim by explaining how an increase in ultraviolet rays leads to an increase in the risk of skin cancer.

Most indoor tanning devices today emit two portions of the ultraviolet spectrum, UVA and UVB, simulating the mixture found in the sun. Ultraviolet radiation damages the skin and eventually leads to the blocking of the body’s natural anti-cancer defenses. Despite this, many teenagers and young adults are not deterred from using tanning booths. “I don’t worry about getting skin cancer because I don’t go enough,” Spiegle said.

However those who are tan now may pay the price for their golden look later in life, even if they never develop skin cancer. Other symptoms of using tanning booths are sagging and wrinkled skin.

But for many young adults their appearance at the present time holds more importance than their future.


About Doug Manners