Tanning: An American fascination


Countless young Americans will use a tanning bed for the first time this year. They may have fallen victim to the myths of tanning: it helps with acne, it makes you look thinner or it fulfills your Vitamin D intake. With the FDA reporting that 68,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with the skin cancer melanoma this year, it may be due time to resort to a safer alternative to tanning.

Margarita Klikizos is a 20 year-old college sophomore this year, but her first experience with a tanning bed was at the age of 17.

“I was partially aware of the dangers [of tanning],” Klikizos said. “I definitely knew it wasn’t good for you, but I would do anything to get rid of my acne, even if it meant jeopardizing my skin in the future. At the time I didn’t know that just one session in a tanning bed significantly increases the risk of melanoma.”

Klikizos’ family is from Greece and they regularly visit their native country every other year. Klikizos saw a cultural difference between the way people in the U.S think about tanning and how those in Greece think about tanning.

“I actually think it’s more socially acceptable to not be tan in the States,” Klikizos said. “Most Greek natives tan pretty easily so there’s almost like this silent competition between everybody to get tanner than your peers. I always get comments about how I pale I am.”

Chloe Santiago is a 19 year-old freshman fashion major at Mount Mary. Santiago shared her routine use of tanning beds and the benefits she seeks.

“I go tanning every other day and sometimes every day if I don’t feel like I’m staying dark for 12 minutes in a level 3 bed,” Santiago said. “I’ve been tanning since I was 16 so for 3 years, but I do take occasional month or so breaks in between. I tan because I like to have a golden glow and it also makes me look and feel thinner.”

As for the dangers of using a tanning bed, Santiago said, people need to stop focusing on the effects of tanning alone and start looking at the bigger picture of all dangers in the world.

“I think people who say tanning is too dangerous look too deep into the danger of only tanning and not the danger of other every day things,” Santiago said. “I accept their opinion, but I think they are a little ridiculous because anything is dangerous if you take it to an extreme.”

Kelly Grandaw, esthetician and owner of Paulina’s Esthetics Boutique in Wauwatosa, explained the differences between UVA and UVB rays and how they affect the skin.

“It’s great to get outside!” Grandaw said. “However, protection against UVA and UVB is very important. Tanning beds have 12 times the amount of UVA wavelengths, which used to be believed to not cause cancer, but we now know that UVA rays damage the cells in the epidermis, which can cause and/or increase the chance of skin cancer.”

Grandaw referenced an article from skincancer.org to explain the increase of melanoma risk in youth. “First exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.”

Grandaw recommended a few safer alternatives to tanning that can be done at home and do not put the skin at any risk.

“Although not perfect, spray tans and at home self-tanners are much preferred to give you a little golden glow,” Grandaw said. “… I recommend exfoliating with a loofah and moisturizing for a couple days before applying a self tanner. Wash your hands immediately after applying, and use a self tanner that states it’s for use on the face or purchase a seperate self tanner to use on your face.”

According to Grandaw, although UV rays can help treat acne, the risk of skin cancer far outweighs the benefits.

“Today we have laser and blue light phototherapy that do the same as UV, without the damage of skin cancer,” Grandaw said. “As far as Vitamin D, exposing your arm or face for twenty minutes a day – a car ride, gives you enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is given through UVB rays, while tanning beds use UVA rays that cause a tan.”

How can someone detect early signs of skin cancer on their own at home? Grandaw shared what is known as the ‘ABCD’ skin check.

“I personally have a lot of “beauty marks” on my body,” Grandaw said. “I check them every month to make sure they look the same … check for asymmetry, the mark should be equal in shape, B border, border should be equal in shape; border should be smooth; color should be even throughout the entire mark; and diameter … should not be greater than a pencil eraser.” The final letter, “e,” refers to checking whether a mole is evolving, or changing size, shape or color.”

As for the distorted myths of tanning, Grandaw encouraged users to get rid of false ideas and replace them with the true facts of tanning.

“I hear from clients and friends all the time that they look better with a tan, or skinnier or younger,” Grandaw said. “The truth is — no, you don’t. Protection from the sun will contribute to slower aging, plumper, smoother skin. You will look better because you took care of yourself. You also will be alive and have no large, disfiguring scars from where cancer was removed. No more excuses. Stop tanning in tanning beds and stock up on sunscreen. Your healthy, whole beautiful self will thank you!”

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