During the winter months, the glowing signs of summer begin to fade, literally, and teens turn to the warm embrace of tanning salons. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 2.3 million teens visit a tanning salon at least once a year. In the United States, 37 percent of white female teens and over 11 percent of white male teens between 13 and 19 years old have been to a tanning booth.
Teens seek tanning salons for a multitude of reasons. Seniors Laura Cornish and Angella North go to the tanning salon once or twice a year for events such as prom and homecoming. Both prefer salon results over spray tans.
“I did it for prom over a month span. It was about $30 to $50, and I went about three times a week,” Cornish said. “[The tanning bed] is more natural.”
Like Cornish, North chose to use a tanning bed instead of a spray or airbrush tan because she believes it looks more natural.
“Overall I’ve done it probably 30 times,” North said. “[I wasn’t worried about the effects because] I didn’t do it excessively. The spray tan makes you orange. In middle school I did a spray tan, and it made me look like an oompa loompa.”
The skin of teens is more susceptible to skin cancer than adult skin because adolescents’ skin cells are dividing and changing more rapidly. A 2002 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that indoor tanning devices increased the risk for squamous cell carcinoma by 2.5 times and the risk for basal cell carcinoma by 1.5 times. Because there are no set guidelines for adolescents to get skin examinations, most skin cancers in children go undiagnosed.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tans are caused by harmful ultraviolet radiation, and teens sustain skin cell damage by visiting a tanning salon one even time. For those in high school or college, just one indoor tanning session a year boosts the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 20 percent. Each session after increases the risk almost another 2 percent, and the risk rises to 73 percent after six or more sessions. Cumulative damage caused by UV radiation may lead to premature skin aging, including wrinkles, lax skin, and brown spots, as well as skin cancer.
“How would you like to look like a leather handbag by the time you’re 30?” anatomy teacher Sinead Arndt said. “A tan is skin damage– the skin is trying to protect itself. Skin cancer is almost a guarantee from tanning. Skin will prematurely wrinkle. It can cause skin discoloration– so blotchiness and it damages the skin to the point where it loses that soft, youthful appearance.”
In 2014, the FDA issued a final order reclassifying ultraviolet tanning devices from low-risk, or class I, to moderate risk devices, (class II). This requires warning labels on the devices to alert young people of the dangers associated with their use. However, according to Arndt, there are some conditions tanning beds can help.
“Now on a positive note for tanning beds, some people with severe eczema or psoriasis on their skin can benefit from UV treatment,” Arndt said. “You’re not going to be in there until the point where you tan. You’re in there for much shorter periods of time, but the ultraviolet light can help with skin conditions.”
An airbrush tan is a spray tan applied by a train technician using a compressor gun by a trained technician or in a spray tan booth. The primary ingredient in spray tanners is DHA, or dihydroxyacetone, which is not toxic and produces no risk of skin cancers.
“Basically if you’re tanning just to tan, like for prom, you’re just damaging your skin,” Arndt said. “Spray tans are a much better way to go.”
And although no tanning is good for one’s skin, indoor ultraviolet tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those that have never used a tanning bed. Senior Hunter Hall decided to try an airbrush tan after his dermatologist recommended it. Hall has a $79 monthly membership to Palm Beach Tan in Gainesville, which gives him access to the highest level beds and all spray tanning. Hall uses a tanning bed about three times a week.
“I have spray tanned. I like bed tanning better because your results last longer and look better. [I tried spray tanning] because of the risk of skin cancer, primarily, and the risk of aging,” Hall said. “I went to the dermatologist, and they told me I needed to stop or I was going to die. I actually went for a sun spot, and they said it was nothing this time but that I need to stop because I’m going to die eventually of skin cancer. They said I should try spray tanning instead.”
Hall says that tanning salons don’t discuss the risks of tanning beds with their customers, but he is aware of them.
“There’s signs in every room. They don’t really say anything about it; you just go in knowing,” Hall said. “I do care about the consequences; it’s more of an addiction to tanning- like once you start going and getting that look, you just keep wanting it.”
With his monthly membership, Hall has access to the 10–minute maximum beds, where he can get a tan quickly.
“I probably go around three times a week to keep [my tan] steady,” Hall said. “I’ve tried stopping. In tanning beds you turn dark and you don’t peel and get a burn or sun poisoning. It’s a lot more hassle-free, other than the long term effects of skin cancer and aging.”
~sararose martin, co editor-in-chief