Research Reveals Tanning Troubles

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Samantha Stopol

Scientific analysis of tanning beds has recently been released, and the findings highlight a major health issue: skin cancer. Multiple university departments and medical centers contributed to this research, including the University of California San Francisco, the University of California Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Cambridge, and the John Muir Medical Center.

Tanning remains a popular activity for teens despite the high SPF sunscreens populating shelves. However, in the US alone, up to 400,000 incidences of skin cancer and 6,000 cases of melanoma can be attributed to exposure from tanning beds, as cited in The New York Times.

The recent stream of evidence has resulted in a push by lawmakers to enact policies that discourage the use of tanning beds and restrict access to minors, who are at the highest risk of skin cancer. According to the Surgeon General, cases of melanoma have been on the rise since the 1980s, especially among women, for whom indoor tanning is often a lifestyle. White teenage girls comprise about a third of indoor tanning clients. More than half frequent tanning salons ten times or more a year.

“We’re seeing younger and younger patients coming to us with skin cancer,” remarked Eleni Linos, a dermatology professor at UC San Francisco, to The New York Times.

Increased risk from UV exposure from indoor tanning is “no longer a question,” said Doctor Jeffrey Gershenwald, a professor of surgery and the medical director at the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center. “Genomics has been transformative in our understanding of melanoma.”

Surprisingly, increased risk awareness hasn’t had a substantial effect on counteracting teens’ allure to tanning beds. A common response from teens is that having a tan makes them feel confident. Some people feel that having a tan evens out their complexion or even makes them look thinner. A stop at the tanning salon often precedes a wedding, vacation, or a high school dance. Additionally, UV light causes endorphins to be released, so tanners leave feeling positive and healthy.

How measurably do tanning beds affect young people’s health? Current research states that exposure to UV light from tanning beds before the age of 30 is linked to a 75 percent increase of risk for melanoma, a fatal type of skin cancer.

In 2010, the federal government responded by including a 10 percent tax on tanning salons in the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, 40 states have placed restrictions or bans on minors. At least in theory, parental consent is usually required to tan at a salon.

Some owners of tanning salons or tanning enthusiasts believe that tanning at a salon helps prevent sunburn. According to the Center for Disease Control, however, a tan increases likelihood for acquiring a sunburn. It turns out, tanned skin is damaged skin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified tanning beds with Group 1 Carcinogens alongside cigarettes, according to The Atlantic.

Governments, cancer organizations, and the press are looking to draw attention to the issue. Hopefully increased awareness of this public health issue and costlier tans will change some minds, however tanning salons are still present at over half of the top 125 colleges in the United States, as reported by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“If I get skin cancer I’ll deal with it then,” remarked Elizabeth LaBak, a Massachusetts college student to The New York Times. “I can’t think about that now. I’m going to die of something.” Although she added, “all the Victoria secret models are pale now.”

What, if anything, will change the culture of indoor tanning remains to be seen.

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