Tanning Beds: To Ban, Or Not To Ban?

Growing up on the coast of the Baltic Sea, where sunny days were a rare occasion, I did not get to enjoy much time in the sun. Yet, just like other girls of my age, I dreamed of having glowing, tanned skin. Many of my friends and I wanted to look like the models or celebrities from the covers of our favorite magazines. I remember how excited we all were when the first tanning salon has opened in our city. Every day after school we used to spend our lunch money just to get a few minutes of the artificial sun. Pale was not pretty by our standards. We enjoyed our tanned skin, and thought it looked good. Obviously, we had no idea about the dangers associated with indoor and outdoor tanning. Instead of protecting our skin with sunscreen, we would slather ourselves with tanning oil so that our skin could get even more dark. Years later my tanning habits have changed. Eight years ago, during my first pregnancy, I have quit both indoor and outdoor tanning. Despite of being out of the sun most of the time, I have soon developed new moles and hyperpigmentation spots. Even with all my best efforts in keeping up with my skin care regimen I noticed that my skin was aging faster than it should have. I have also developed a conjunctival nevi – a dark spot on the white part of the eye. Just like any discoloration, it could be potentially dangerous and had to be constantly monitored.  Only during my adult years, while going through an esthetician program, I have learned that UV exposure is the primary cause of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I have also discovered that that dark tan we all desired to achieve was a sign of damage and a way of skin to protect itself from the UV radiation (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Just like my friends and I once did, young girls these days also try to look like their favorite celebrities. Many, especially those of Caucasian descent, are still convinced that tan makes them look better. Teenagers all over the country still abuse tanning beds, without even realizing the harm this habit causes. Use of tanning beds by minors should be banned nationwide because it increases risk of skin cancer in the future, promotes early aging, and negatively affects self-image.

Use of tanning beds during the teenage years have been associated with increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Over the years, numerous studies of the effects of UV radiation have been conducted. Unfortunately, the results of these studies have not been in favor of tanning. In 2016 the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Organization’s International Agency of Research on cancer panel have declared ultraviolet radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, to be a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) (American Academy of Dermatology).  It is estimated that use of such devices may cause over 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year (AADA). According to American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed form of cancer among young females. This may be attributed to the widespread use of tanning devices among teenage girls. Almost seventy percent of those who frequent tanning salons are young Caucasian women and girls (AADA). Sadly, many do not realize that many dangers are associated with indoor tanning. Even one indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by sixty-seven percent and basal cell carcinoma by twenty-nine percent (AADA). Moreover, using tanning beds before age thirty-five can increase the risk of melanoma by fifty-nine percent (AADA). Many people already know that sunburn and blistering during childhood and teenage years significantly increases chances of developing skin cancer later in life. What many do not realize is that suntan is just as dangerous as sunburn. Darkening of the skin after UV exposure is the way body responds to injury from UV rays (CDC).

Many young girls are convinced that tan makes their skin look better, but in reality it contributes to premature aging. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the increase in skin pigment, called melanin, which causes the tan color change in your skin is a sign of damage (CDC).  Premature aging is also known as “photoaging”. Photoaging usually manifests itself in the form of hyperpigmentation, or dark spots, and dry leathery skin. Unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays in tanning lamps breaks down the collagen and elastin fibers in healthy young skin and causes wrinkles and loosened folds. Overproduction of melanin, a pigment that produces tan within the skin, can also lead to hypopigmentation, or white spots. Hypopigmentation is especially dangerous, as once the cell loses its ability to produce melanin it can never be restored. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a safe tan. Studies have demonstrated that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells, and can also suppress immune system (CDC). These consequences of tanning will not only increase chances of developing skin cancer, but also lead to dry and permanently damaged skin in the future.

Moreover, use of tanning beds negatively affects self-image. Girls choose to hide under the tan instead of accepting their true skin color. Many use tanning as a cover up for blemishes without realizing that UV exposure will only aggravate acne. Inspired by the advertisement of indoor tanning and driven by desire to look like celebrities, girls permanently damage their skin and their self-image by using tanning beds. Unfortunately, the indoor tanning industry, which had an estimated revenue of 2.6 billion dollars in 2010 (AAD), preys on people’s insecurities. Instead of learning how to take care proper care of the skin they were born with, girls often rush to get a quick fix by using tanning beds. Although we, as a society, have entered a new era of diversity, bulling associated with skin color, whether light or dark, still exists among teenagers. This may also contribute to the excessive use of tanning devices. According to the research conducted by Fisher D.E. and James W.D., tanning is also very addictive (AADA). Therefore, use of tanning beds becomes a life-long habit for many people.

Some may argue the restrictions on indoor tanning by saying that government has no right to determine lifestyle choices for people. That point is true; nevertheless, if tanning beds have been classified as known carcinogens, just like tobacco and alcohol, should not we treat them the same way? The World Health Organization recommends that minors should not use indoor tanning equipment because indoor tanning devices emit UVA and UVB radiation, and because overexposure to UV radiation can lead to the development of skin cancer (AADA). This recommendation has been supported by numerous health and research organizations such as American Academy of Dermatology, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, these organizations have no authority to impose a nationwide ban on use of indoor tanning devices. This is the job of legislators. Democrat congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is one of the policymakers who fights for the complete ban on tanning devices by minors. In her speech to congress in May of 2015 she said: “We do not allow our children to buy cigarettes. We discourage their use generally. We should be doing the very same for tanning beds. Yet, the tanning industry continues to target teen and adolescent girls with aggressive marketing. This is not unlike what we found out when we were dealing with the tobacco industry (qtd. In Meyer)”.

Based on the above-mentioned evidence, there is no doubt that use of tanning beds increases chances of skin cancer later in life, promotes premature aging of the skin, and negatively affects self-image. Which is why the use of these devices by minors should absolutely be banned. Forty-two states are already implementing some sort of regulations on the use of tanning beds. There are sixteen states - California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington, which have already banned the use of tanning beds for all minors under eighteen (National Conference of State Legislatures). I hope that other states will follow their lead and protect our youth from unnecessary harm.

Works Cited:

Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "Tanning - The Risks of Tanning." U.S. Food and Drug Administration Home Page. Center for Devices and Radiological Health, 14 Oct. 2015, www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/tanning/ucm116432.htm. Accessed 20 April 2017.

 "Indoor Tanning." Dangers of Indoor Tanning | American Academy of Dermatology. N.p., n.d., www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care. Accessed 20 April 2017.

 "Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Jan. 2017, www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm. Accessed 20 April 2017.

 "Indoor Tanning Restrictions For Minors | A State-By-State Comparison." National Conference of State Legislatures. N.d., 10 Apr. 2017, www.ncsl.org/research/health/indoor-tanning-restrictions.aspx. Accessed 13 April 2017.

           Meyer, Ali. "Democrat Congresswoman Calls for National Ban on Tanning For Those Under 18." CNS News. N.d., 22 May 2015, www.cnsnews.com/news/article/ali-meyer/democrat-congresswoman-calls-national-ban-tanning-those-under-18. Accessed 20 April 2017.

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