Despite health risks students desire bronzed bodies

By Kelly McKee
April 21, 2005


With the bronzed look currently en vogue and skimpy clothing shunning the wooly wraps of winter, the pressure is on for teens to be tan. It is well known that the teenage years are when we are most impressionable and concerned to conform. Realizing this, the World Health Organization supported by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (ADDA) is taking on the tanning industry for their services to minors. Studies show that over 2 million teenagers in the United States currently use indoor tanning devices. These organizations find this number extremely worrying when placed beside the rising number of cases of skin cancer in this nation.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services lists ultraviolet radiation from the sun or artificial light sources such as tanning beds and sun lamps as a known carcinogen. Tanning beds emit ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A radiation, both of which are associated with the development of skin cancer and premature aging. Over the last 10 years, skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer, with more than one million new cases a year. Melanoma is the deadliest form of the disease and according to the ADDA, it is estimated that there will be about 105,750 new cases of melanoma in 2005, which represents a 10 percent increase in new cases from 2004.

The industry has always faced debate over the undeniable links between ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer. However, a new turn in the debate over the industries health concerns has erupted on the topic of teen tanning. The AADA is opposed to minors being permitted to use indoor tanning devices. So far, 22 states have placed a ban on minors using the devices but the ADDA are pushing for tougher and more widespread restriction. Currently in Pennsylvania, House Bill 548 has been proposed to ban under 18’s from tanning, amongst other measures such as the essential placement of warning signs throughout salons on the possible dangers of the ultraviolet radiation that is emitted. The consensus among the tanning industry is that self-regulation is enough and reforms such as Bill 548 are unnecessary.

Charis Munoz, senior special and elementary major and three-year-employee of Hollywood Tans, believes that her company provides adequate information in their release form. According to Munoz, the salons’ busy season runs from the end of February through the summer months and they are currently packed with tan seekers. “The release form warns of possible dangers and requires each new customer must fill in details on their age and any medical condition they have,” Munoz said. On the topic of minors tanning, Munoz said, “Really we only will require parental permission if the customer is under 14 or 15.” “Tanning indoors is safer than outside tanning. Our best bed emits only two percent ultraviolet B radiation which is what does the damage to your skin by burning it,” Munoz said.

Hollywood Tans is a leader in the industry with over 200 salons nationwide. Their website lists various benefits of indoor tanning such as weight loss, cures for skin ailments and ‘the feel good’ syndrome that comes from the production of endorphins through ultraviolet exposure. This theory of endorphin release has been developed by many dermatologists and new studies are finding that tanning can become addictive. The industry has become a $5 billion goldmine amidst these health warnings and debates. So is it these addictive endorphins or are there deeper reasons behind the need to be bronze?

“It makes me feel healthy when I tan,” a senior education major from Cabrini College said. The senior began tanning when she was merely 16 years old and now maintains her skin tone with up to three visits a week to the salon. Three years ago, a mole on her side began to grow darker in color. On visiting her doctor, she was told that the mole was a sign of developing skin cancer and it may have been malignant. The mole was found to be benign after removal but the advice from the doctor was “no more tanning and to wear a high factor sun block.” However the student still persists in paying a visit to her local salon. “But now I’m more careful, my skin gets checked every six months. What would it take for me to stop? I guess for someone close to me to get skin cancer,” she said.

Although college student Andrew Mindnich, a junior English/ communication major, does not use the devices himself he appreciates the attraction a tan can have. “A tan can never hurt on a girl,” he said, but on choosing a tanned girl over a paler skinned one Mindnich said, “It all depends on the girl.”

As Pennsylvania awaits the verdict on House bill 548, teens still flock to the tanning booths. Restrictions may soon be enforced to require parental consent or to ban minors completely but how these will be implemented or even if they will is still in the air. But it cannot be doubted that indoor tanning has established itself as a lucrative industry and will remain as long as a bronzed body is considered attractive. As for Hollywood Tans worker Munoz, she continues to welcome new customers everyday and occasionally steps into the booth herself. But in the future would she let her children tan artificially? Munoz said, “no I probably wouldn’t, not until they were at least 18 anyway.”

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Kelly McKee

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