Color billboards and glossy magazine advertisements for tanning salons are everywhere. While each has a slightly different image, all are similar in nature — a beautiful, deeply tanned figure, slathered in oil and wearing very little, smiles provocatively with a ‘come hither’ look. And for just an instant, onlookers picture themselves lying on a tropical beach, looking alluring and serene.
Until, that is, they blink and return to reality. And the reality is that tanning beds can be dangerous. Tanning beds expose skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can be damaging and, even without a sunburn, lead to the development of skin cancer.
“Tanning beds significantly increase your risk for developing skin cancer — point blank,” says Susan Chon, M.D., assistant professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Dermatology. “What people need to know is that there are ways to achieve that same, bronzed look from a variety of self-tanning and spray tanning products that won’t do damage to your skin or increase your risk for skin cancer.”
Fake It, Don’t Bake It
Regardless of the advertising claims, no UVA or UVB tanning device is safe. The only safe tan comes from self-tanning lotions or spray tans. Many new lines of self-tanners and lotions can give people the look they crave without causing damage to the skin.
When the tan-in-a-bottle first hit the market, years ago, many of the available products turned users off because they were difficult to use and left skin looking streaked, or worse, Bert-and-Ernie orange. Now, however, many bottled tans are fairly inexpensive, easy to use and look very natural.
“Spray-on tans are safe and really quick,” Chon says. “Self-tanners, instant bronzing mousses and lotions low in the active ingredient, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), work really well and can be used daily. I completely support using any of these products in place of sun exposure.”
So why do people, especially young women, spend so much time and money at tanning salons?
When Tan Equals Beauty
Nevena Djujic, 20, a full time finance student in Houston, has a membership to a local tanning salon where she goes once a week. She began her membership in May 2007, but has been tanning on and off for the past five years.
“I started tanning in high school when I had a special event, like prom,” Nevena says. “Almost all of my friends now do it, most of them on a more regular basis than I do. I have one friend who goes almost every other day because it takes her a long time to get the color she wants.”
Tanning salons are alluring because being bronzed has become synonymous with beauty. Some tanning salons now offer teeth whitening, photo rejuvenation and eyelash extensions.
“I go tanning because I really like the look of bronzed skin,” Nevena says. “I didn’t used to feel pressure to be tanned, but as I got older, friends teased me for looking pale, and I also felt pressure from society to be darker. Now, I just feel more beautiful that way.”
Many tanning salons use coercive advertising campaign slogans to attract business, including: Put your skin in the best light; We offer the benefits of always looking and feeling your best; and Luxorious UV tanning!
“When I go tanning I see the warning signs, but I feel like it is okay because I don’t go as frequently as my friends, and I won’t do it forever,” Nevena says. “My friends who go a lot don’t care if it causes cancer. They are preoccupied with how good they look afterwards.”
Although tanning salons make being tanned seem glamorous, particularly to young people, it isn’t just tanning salons that equate being tanned with beauty.
“The media in general portrays tanned people as being healthier or more affluent,” Chon says. “The look of a summertime tan has become a part of American culture.”
Tanning Beds and Skin Cancer Incidence
Tanning salon rays might, in fact, increase damage caused by sunlight because ultraviolet light can thin the skin and make it less able to heal, according to the National Cancer Institute. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55% more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and using one before age 35 is associated with a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society. Even occasional use among that age group almost tripled the chances of developing melanoma.
Not only is constant exposure to UV rays a problem, but people lie in tanning beds naked. “We are beginning to see freckling on the buttocks and breasts, areas that were once protected by bathing suits,” Chon says.
The Debate Over Vitamin D
It isn’t just a change in appearance, however, that tanning salons are selling. Many salons link the health benefits of vitamin D intake that can be achieved through the UV exposure that tanning services provide.
While it is true that UV exposure can increase the body’s production of vitamin D, there are much safer ways to give your body the vitamin D it needs to fight disease without increasing your risk for skin cancer.
“Vitamin D is known to help regulate immune function and calcium levels,” Chon says. “But the idea that tanning salons provide any type of health benefit is terribly misleading. If you think you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, try drinking vitamin D fortified milk or orange juice, fortified cereals, or take oral supplements.”
In November 2008, the Texas Attorney General sued the Houston-based tanning salon Darque TanÂ® for falsely claiming that their beds reduced cancer risks by increasing the body’s levels of vitamin D. The lawsuit charged that Darque Tan’s advertising and online video were misleading, especially because only a small amount of sunlight is needed for the body to manufacture vitamin D.
Avoid Prolonged Exposure to UVA and UVB
Skin cancer is currently the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. More than one million cases of basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers, the most common form of skin cancer, occur every year, resulting in approximately about 2,000 deaths. Squamous cells are the thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the skin, and basal cells are the round cells directly underneath them.
The most dangerous form of skin cancer, however, is melanoma. More than 59,000 people in the United States each year get melanoma, which claims more than 7,000 lives. The popularity of tanning and tanning beds is one of the reasons that melanoma is becoming more common in the United States and in other countries around the world.
While using tan-in-a-bottle products is safe, it is important that people remember using tanning sprays or lotions will not protect them from the sun, and they should continue to use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. It also is important for people who want that just-back-from-vacation glow to know it’s not just tanning salons that increase your skin cancer risks, but also prolonged exposure to any type of UVA or UVB rays, indoor or out.
“Any tan, even if it’s not a burn, shows that you’ve had some sun damage,” Chon says. “When your skin cells are damaged, the production of pigment is sped up to help protect, or shade, your body from the sun.”
As the long, hot days of summer approach, remember that there is a healthy way to get the glow. Your skin will thank you — now, and for years to come.
Seven Useful Tips for Applying Self-Tanner
- Take your time and set aside at least 30 minutes to apply your self-tanner
- Use an exfoliating body/facial scrub immediately before application
- Once you have applied your self-tanner, wait at least four to six hours before taking a shower
- Plan in advance which body parts you want to tan and in what order so you won’t miss a spot
- Wash your hands immediately after application so you don’t end up with tanned/orange palms
- Cover the parts of your body that you don’t want to tan, or parts like elbows and knees that will absorb the product easily, with regular lotion first
- Go easy if you are a first time user. You can always reapply the tanner if you want it darker
Courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Â© Copyright 2011 Â Allison Stuart Kaplan Â www.Askinyourface.com LLC