Brown and crispy. That’s certainly how I like my chicken, but it sure as heck isn’t how I like my skin. Yet in America there is an overwhelming preoccupation with tanning, whether it’s through sun-booths, spray-ons, or good ol’ fashioned backyard roasting.
In the olden days, when society was obsessed with looking like a bunch of corpses, I would have been lucky enough to be cool without ever having to leave the comfort of my living room. But that TV screen tan just isn’t good enough anymore. The craze of tanning, fake or otherwise, grabbed a hold of Americans in the 1920s and has never looked back. And although we’ve become obsessed with looking like Baja Beach bums, a few have stopped to point out the negative health effects of those convenient trips to the tanning salon.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that sunless tanning is a $2 billion-a-year market in the United States. It is estimated that 28 million Americans tan indoors annually, but if you are among that number, you may want to reconsider.
Exposure to harmful UVA and UVB rays emitted during tanning bed use has been linked to skin cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that people who use a tanning bed are 2.5 times more likely to acquire squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, than those who don’t tan.
But tanning beds do have their advocates. Those who support the use of UV tanning claim that it may in fact have beneficial effects. One of these is that by providing a base tan, people are actually protected from further sun damage, thus aiding in the prevention of skin cancers. Most members of the medical profession do not agree. They say that the science behind the tan proves it an unhealthy practice.
Let me clue you in on the technicals of the tan. When the body is exposed to UV rays it reacts by distributing small amounts of melanin throughout the outer most portion of the skin. Sounds good, right? Well, the reason your body does this is the help shield it from further sun damage. The tan actually acts as a natural defense mechanism to try to counter the dangerous rays of the sun. Those who oppose fake tanning say that by achieving this reaction, a person is proving the danger behind it.
In a world full of mixed tanning signals, how is a person supposed to know whether or not to tan, and if so, whether or not to do it naturally? Exposure to the sun for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a week, will fulfill the body’s requirement for Vitamin D, and I know how my mother harps on me for that. But on the other hand, if a person is exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time, they could instead end up with the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.
For those of us who don’t know who to listen to, it just seems best to play it safe. Avoid extended exposure to the sun, unless wearing at least SPF 15 sun block, and stay away from tanning beds. If that brownish-orange hue is for you, then the American Cancer Society suggests you try hitting the fake tan bottle instead. Spray-on tans may seem silly, but they save skin from unneeded damage. Just make sure that you avoid getting dye on your palms and soles. And if you’re going to do the stand up spray-on technique, follow these words of advice, “When getting the spray, turn ALL the way.”
Messing around with tanning is not worth the risk. A person simply has to weigh their options before realizing it’s not a very good idea. The prospect of long-term skin damage should be enough of a deterrent for most of us to flee the scene of tanning beds and apply some SPF. While there are supposedly safe alternatives like spray-ons and lotions, it may be best for Americans to take a step back and think about the preservation of their natural color.
Jacqueline D’Ercole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.