Tanning: the Sun Has a Dark Side

The first indoor tanning beds were developed in 1906, by a medical research company named Heraeus. The main purpose of this tanning lamp was medicinal, used on patients with calcium deficiency disorders, to see if the increased sun light would build stronger bones, and help the body produce more calcium. As time progressed, it became apparent that Heraeus was onto something big with his invention.

In the early 1970’s the tanning bed’s use turned from medicinal to cosmetic, when a German scientist, Fredrick Wolff, decided to use the artificial sunlight on athletes, hoping to demonstrate that the tanning bed would increase their athletic aptitude. His timing was perfect. The golden tan was becoming a popular fashion trend, so Wolff used his acquired knowledge to tap into the fashion industry (Tanning Beds). He developed one of the greatest inventions of our time: The tanning bed. Across the nation tanning has grown to be a popular trend in our society.

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The deep, dark tan is a new craze sought by people, especially teens. It is that bronzed, sun-kissed outcome that instills a high sense of beauty in the person that has it. People will spend countless hours and money to acquire this wanted look, to strive for perfection. However, people overlook the long term effects that tanning does to our bodies. The government has made steps to improve peoples’ health and safety, and is starting to look at the dangers of indoor tanning. In California, the government has passed a law banning indoor tanning for adolescents. Allowing minors to tan may result in health consequences.

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer across the nation. There are three kinds: basal, squamous and melanoma. Basal and squamous are not as dangerous and do not occur as often as melanoma. The occurrence of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, has doubled in the U. S. since 1975 among women ages 15 to 29 (Hawaleshka, Danylo). Various cancer agencies believe that sun exposure is linked to most skin cancers. Reducing exposure to ultraviolet radiation would cut the number of new cancer cases, just as quitting smoking cuts cancer in tobacco addicts.

Teenagers are at an even greater risk for developing skin related diseases, such as melanoma. The continued use of a tanning lamp can be dangerous during these years. Joshua L. Fox, M. D, a dermatologist, says that teens, “are still experiencing tremendous growth at the cellular level, and, like other cells in the body, the skin cells are dividing more rapidly than they do during adulthood,” (Rados, Carol). When teens start at a young age they do not realize the damage they are doing to their skin, because the signs are not visible. Doctors are more concerned with the long-term consequences of adolescent tanning.

The World Health Organization estimated in 2006 that up to 60,000 deaths worldwide are caused each year by excessive UV exposure and urged youths under 18 to steer clear of indoor tanning salons (Rawe, Julie). It is important to protect teenagers from the great risks of tanning, because their skin is so vulnerable at this age. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, pale was in. If a woman was tan they were either considered low class, from working in fields, or a prostitute. Woman did anything thing they could to keep their precious fair skin out of the sun’s fearful rays.

“European women would casually twirl frilly parasols to shield themselves from the sun,” notes Stephen Katz, a sociology professor at Trent University (Hawaleshka, Danylo). Why is it that teens in the 21st century have this obsession with becoming tan? Trends have started to change and tans are now considered “cool. ” Indoor tanning has become a dangerous addiction for many teens to crack. Danylo Hawaleshka compares tanning to other addictions saying that the, “sun is the new tobacco, which the young, especially, just can’t quit” (Hawaleshka, Danylo).

Teens become addicted for multiple reasons. First of all, it is perceived amongst the teen generation that tanning is directly related to how beautiful a person is. It is a wide spread belief that having a bronzed body makes people appear thinner, healthier, and prettier. Teens also have the desire to bask in the sun to acquire golden skin and experience its mood-lifting effects. It is believed that tanning increases a person’s self-esteem, because they feel better about the way they look (Brody, Jane).

The media plays a large role in the escalation of tanning amongst adolescents, because teens see a new generation of bronzed entertainment and beauty icons that are making the tan chic again. Teens have their eyes fixed on perpetually-tanned celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, and every Jersey Shore character, who all contribute to this tanning fixation. The media portrays perfect people and body images that teens all across the nation hope and strive to emulate. A new term has been coined for people that suffer the addiction of tanning: Tanorexia.

In the same way an anorexic never thinks she is thin enough, a “tanorexic,” never believe she is tan enough. Studies from North Carolina’s Wake Forest University show that tanning may trigger endorphins, which is why sunbathing feels so relaxing and why frequent tanners experience withdrawal-like symptoms if they don’t get their regular fix (Rawe, Julie). Brittany Lietz says she learned that the hard way. As a high school student she thought she looked too pale in her white prom dress, so she went with some friends to a local tanning salon to add a little color. Soon enough her one time routine became a twenty minute a day obsession.

A couple years later she found a bleeding mole, which turned out to be stage 1B melanoma. She had other suspicious growths tested, and now has 35 scars in counting. Her family has had no history of skin diseases, so they were convinced it was because of her obsession with tanning (Elkins, Sarah). Tanning can become so easily addicting, because people are never fully satisfied with their tan, they always want more. It is also very convenient for teens to access tanning salons, which is contributing to a frightening escalation in skin-cancer rates amongst the young.

“Skin cancer used to be something old people got,” says Dr. James Spencer, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York City’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Not a month goes by that I don’t see somebody in their 20s now, that was unheard of 10 years ago,” (Rawes, Julie). It can be more common to see a tanning salon than a McDonalds when driving down the street. They are everywhere and easy for teens to get to. Even though skin cancer has been proven to be the most diagnosed cancer in the country, television, newspapers and certain websites say that UV rays prevent cancer rather than cause it.

Many articles promote the idea of vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin,” absorbing into our skin (Elkins, Sarah). The Indoor Tanning Association contributes to this idea saying that vitamin D is beneficial to our health. However, the public is being misled when indoor tanning salons are falsely promoting that artificial UV light is safer than natural sunlight. The sun and tanning beds emit two types of ultraviolet light rays, UVA and UVB. The skin absorbs both types in different ways.

The, “UVA rays have longer wavelengths that penetrate into the deepest layers of the skin, whereas UVB rays’ wavelengths are short and only reach the surface layers of skin,” (Are Tanning Beds a Safe Source of Vitamin D? ). Both types of rays contribute to the potential health risks connected to excessive sun exposure. UVB rays produce vitamin D in the skin, and are responsible for the healthy benefits of sunshine. For most people it is healthy exposing their arms and face to sunshine for about 20 minutes per day. This gives the skin enough UVB rays to reduce vitamin D deficiencies, without causing damage.

While UVB rays can be beneficial to the skin, tanning salons are more interested in UVA rays. This is because overexposure to UVB rays can easily form sunburns, while UVA rays give the golden-brown tan sought after by most salon customers. Tanning salons calibrate their tanning beds to emit approximately 95 percent UVA rays (Are Tanning Beds a Safe Source of Vitamin D? ). As a result, it minimizes the amount of vitamin D absorbed into our skin. Tanning beds, may offer a golden brown hue, but they put people at risk of excessive exposure to dangerous UVA rays, and should not be a substitute for old-fashion sunshine.

False advertising allows teens to gain blurred knowledge of the effects of indoor tanning. Promoting only the health benefits of UV rays is “like recommending smoking to reduce stress,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy medical director of the American Cancer Society (Elkins, Sarah). In addition, a substantial percentage of adolescents are not being warned about the numerous skin cancer dangers of indoor tanning beds by tanning salon employees, according to research organized by the American Academy of Dermatology.

The survey discovered that, “43% of tanning bed users have never been cautioned by the salon staff about the dangers of tanning beds. When asked if they were aware of any warning labels on tanning beds, 30% of indoor tanners said no,” (Teens Not Cautioned On The Dangers Of Tanning Beds). The tanning industry needs to start communicating with their patrons about the risks of indoor sun bathing so they can be well-informed to make educated decisions.

All in all, the reasons why teens become so addicted to tanning is because the media promotes the tan look, consumers of tanning salons are misled of the harmful tanning effects, and it is readily available for teens to access. In America people have the freedom to decide what they want to do to their own body. However, an important question to ask is, “When is it time for the government to step in? ” People argue that the government should not interfere with what we do to our bodies. Yet, the government is supposed to protect the safety of its citizens. California has recently established a new law banning tanning to all minors.

California became the first state in the country to ban indoor tanning for anyone under 18, a move that drew praise from health organizations. About 30 other states have laws that place limits on indoor tanning for children and teenagers, but California’s new law will be the strictest in the nation, prohibiting any minor from using a tanning bed, even with a parent’s permission. The law comes from growing evidence from studies linking ultraviolet ray exposure to skin cancer. California legislature believes that banning indoor tanning to minors’ will impact future generations (O’Connor, Anahad).

Slowly, other states are starting to make efforts to decrease the use of tanning beds for adolescents. Many states have laws that require a parents’ consent before a minor is allowed to use a tanning booth. The legislature has also made efforts to urge people to lose the desire for tanning, by proposing taxes. After vigorous protests, by the American Academy of Dermatology, there is now a 10% tax on tanning bed services. However, not all organizations praise this idea. The Indoor Tanning Association represents thousands of tanning equipment manufacturers, distributors, salon owners and their members.

This aggravated the ITA, who complained that the tax was unfair, believing that it would devastate thousands of small businesses nationwide (Gatty, Bob). They are worried that this will cost people jobs and tanning salons will lose a lot of business. However, their main concern seems to be with the extreme profits they make in the tanning industry. The $5-billion tanning-salon market in America has shown unbelievable growth, going from fewer than 10,000 outlets in the early 1990s to about 50,000 today (Hawaleshka, Danylo). The ITA is not going to go down without a fight, with teens being their highest paying customers.

The government and many dermatology institutes seem to clash ideas with the Indoor Tanning Association. Dermatology institutes believe sun-bathing increases a person’s chance of skin cancer, while the ITA tells the public that the vitamin D from UV rays are good for our skin. Yet, the facts show the detrimental effects of indoor tanning. Vitamin D is good for people’s skin; however, the excessive amounts of tanning are much more harmful to a person’s body. People need only a small amount of vitamin D in their bodies, not the large amounts people get from basking under UV sun lights.

Skin cancer accounts for almost half of the diseases in the United States. More than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are found in this country each year. Melanoma accounted for about 68,130 cases of skin cancer in 2010 (American Cancer Society). America should be more concerned with society’s safety versus the billion dollar tanning industry. The tanning business is profitable and has many followers. Dermatology institutes would love to see indoor tanning banned completely, although, because the industry is so large our government can only make small steps and slight changes for the safety of minors.

If indoor tanning is limited to teens, the skin cancer rates will go down. People will not be able to quit this addiction, like most addictions, on their own, they will need help. The government needs to step in and create laws to ensure the safety of our people. The first step is to make tanning non available to minors. It has been proven multiple times that a teenager’s skin is still developing, and is more vulnerable to the sun’s deadly rays. California has started this trend, and the goal is for more states to follow.

Tanning in the 21st century has become one of America’s largest trends. People see it all across the world throughout our media in famous actors and supermodels. The obsession to become one shade darker has become an addiction for many teenagers. Tanning has become a way to boost ones self-esteem. It is easy for people to waste time and money through this strong addiction of tanning. The health risks involved are too high to not go unnoticed. The government needs to step in to lower the high rates of developing skin cancers.

Allowing minors to tan will result in potential health risks for future generations, and should be banned all across America to ensure teens’ safety. The skin is the largest organ of the body. It protects the internal organs and serves as a barrier between germs. The skin regulates body temperature and helps get rid of excess water and salts. Skin also communicates with the brain and gives people sensations of touch. Skin protects humans and gives us feeling, so in return people should learn to protect their skin.