Obtaining the ideal bronzed summer look pushes students to use indoor tanning beds all year long. As a result, the rates of skin cancer are increasing in young adults.
While the brown-skinned look may be ideal for men and women alike, the measures taken to get there can have terrible, long-term effects. Indoor tanning beds shower bodies with enhanced UV ray exposure in short increments of time. This concentrated amount of exposure is a leading cause of skin cancer, particularly melanoma.
Know your skin, act accordingly
USA Today published an article about a study on tanning beds released May 10 of this year. They study states, “White women, ages 18 to 21, have the highest rate of indoor tanning with 32 percent saying they did indoor tanning at least once in the past 12 months. That group reports an average of 28 times they did indoor tanning in the same period. And 30 percent of women ages 22-25 say they used indoor tanning devices.”
The study also stated, “Indoor tanning before age 35 increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma by 75 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.”
Regulations on tanning beds are taking a hit in light of recent controversy in the news. “Tanning Mom,” Patricia Krentcil, 44, was accused of taking her young daughter into the tanning bed with her. While Krentcil denies these allegations, the physical evidence of her tanning addiction works against her.
While this uproar in the media is fairly recent, the use of indoor tanning beds is not.
Dr. Chad Peterson is a dermatologist at Aspen Dermatology in Spanish Fork. Their clinic sees about 500 to a thousand cases of skin cancer a year.
“The UVA and UVB rays are what causes the skin damage, and tanning beds give those rays about seven times higher than the actual sun,” Peterson said. “The beds contain a more intense and frequent version of these rays, all in a shorter duration.”
Peterson referenced the Fitzpatrick skin-type chart to explain the different kinds of skin and which is more susceptible to skin damage. The chart labels skin types from zero to four. Zero represents someone with light eyes, reddish hair, lots of freckles and skin that is very sensitive to the sun. Four represents someone with dark eyes, black hair and skin that does not react much to sun exposure. Peterson said they only remove skin cancer from people categorized in the zero to two range of the Fitzpatrick chart.
Falling into the vanity trap
Dani Mos works at Waikiki Beach tanning salon in Orem. A regular day of business consists of about 30 to 40 customers.
“Winter is definitely a busy time because people want to get some color,” Mos said, “but the summer months stay busy with those who don’t really want to have noticeable tan lines.”
Mos said their establishment makes sure those coming in are aware of the risks involved with indoor tanning beds.
“We have signs on the walls that inform people of the UV radiation from the beds,” Mos said. “We make sure they tan with lotion and use protective eye wear. We also have rules that anyone under 18 has to have a parent with them, and no one can tan twice within 24 hours.”
Andrea Merrill, a BYU student from Orem, said she doesn’t think she frequents the beds enough to worry about developing skin cancer, but has an opinion about women who do.
“I only use tanning beds in the winter, when I feel pasty white,” Merrill said. “That started because I used to be called names for being so pale. I don’t feel like I even go enough to the point where skin cancer would be a concern. Some girls go (so) much that it looks like they rolled in Doritos.”
Many studies concerning tanning beds find the majority of those tanning indoors are women. Men, however, are still guilty in the quest to acquire the yearlong tan.
Andrew Pray, a student at BYU, said he has seen the errors of his tanning ways and has committed to making a change.
“I used to go tanning three to four times a week with my buddies,” Pray said. “We just liked the look of being tan. I still do, but I haven’t gone to a tanning bed in a long time because I realized how harmful it really is. I prefer the natural sun anyway.”
Time to take action
“What I always say to those who ask me about my opinion on tanning is that you can tan in your 20s and 30s and still dodge a bullet, but you will see the effects down the road,” Dr. Peterson said. “You are at a risk of skin cancer, but if you want lots of wrinkles, go ahead. We have older people coming in to try and get those wrinkles reversed.”
Peterson said melanoma is one of the top three skin cancers found in people in their 20s and 30s. Because of the young ages, he said he believes it is directly linked to tanning.
With the amount of skin cancer discovered in younger age groups, bans and restrictions on indoor tanning have started to become popular.
According to an article in the Northwest Herald, 33 states regulate tanning bed use by minors. Since 2011, however, an additional 23 states have attempted to legislate tanning. The only states with complete bans on underage tanning are California, Vermont and Chicago.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) takes a stance on indoor tanning and provides shocking statistics on their website. They have found that, “on an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people tan in tanning salons. Studies have found a 75 percent increase the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.”
Peterson said he agrees strongly with the official statement the AADA has published and said he thinks everyone should consider the risks involved with indoor tanning.
The official statement online says, “The American Academy of Dermatology Association opposes indoor tanning and supports a ban on the production and sale of indoor tanning equipment for non-medical purposes.”
With all things considered, is the yearlong bronze look still worth the long term effects? Professionals say no. Healthy ways to gain some color in the winter and summer months include self tanners in the form of lotion, foam or even spray.