Blinded by the Light: The Real Cost of Indoor Tanning

It’s burning up more and more by the second. The bright lights blind you, but you don’t want to place the eye protectors across your eyelids in fear of leaving spots or an uneven tone on your face. You lie there, completely at peace with music playing above your head, outside the box. Twelve minutes pass, the lights come down and immediately, you feel a rush of cool air as the heat vanishes. As you’re getting dressed, you catch a glance of yourself in the mirror, let out a sigh and smile, thinking it’s all worth it. Even in the early weeks of spring, you’re magically walking around with a sun-kissed tan as if you just came back from the Bahamas. Fact check: that invigorating feeling of confidence may not last as long as the chemicals in your body will.

Indoor tanning is said to be as danger as it a luxury for people. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than one million people tan in tanning salons. Moreover, 70 percent of patrons are women aged 16 to 29, ages that include college students.

Melanie Ratajczak, a sophomore education and spanish major, has been tanning indoors for three years and believes she has become addicted to the way she looks with a tan. “Initially, I started to get a base tan before vacation. Naturally my skin is pale, so a base tan helps in order to avoid sun poisoning.”

A frequent customer at Beach Bum Tanning Salon for their “reasonable prices,” Ratajczak explains she normally tans on level one, the lightest and weakest level, in 15 minutes intervals. She says she also goes tanning to relieve stress and insists it helps with acne breakouts and covers up scarring.

Cliental continues to flourish, despite evidence that risks are present in indoor tanning beds. The United States Department of Health and Human Services and World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer panel declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources as known carcinogens. Carcinogens can be defined as cancer-causing substances.

Dr. Arnold Baskies, President of the American Cancer Society for New Jersey and New York, states that those who use tanning beds before the age of 30 increase their risks for melanoma by 75 percent. Other diseases include skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. “There are two types of UV rays. Type B is not produced in tanning beds, and Type A is a deeper penetration, so you’re not even aware that you’re getting five times the usual dosage,” Baskies explains.

Ratajczak says she is aware of the health risks of indoor tanning. “I am aware that it can cause cancer. It scares me, but it has kind of become a habit.” Aside from a little sunburn, Ratajczak says she hasn’t had any negative side effects.

As for how many minutes you need to spend in a session before catching some of these side effects, Baskies says it doesn’t matter; “one single sunburn” can do a great deal of damage. “The more you use it, the higher the risk,” he says.

Skin cancer is not the only serious health risk. In a recent survey stated on the American Academy of Dermatology’s website, 58 percent of users had burns due to frequent tanning bed exposure. Moreover, the FDA estimates that annually, there are approximately 3,000 hospital emergency room cases a year due to indoor tanning bed and lamp exposure.

Baskies introduces another health risk – skin infections. If tanning beds are not cleaned properly, one can develop staph infections; there are also some cases of e coli having been found, according to Baskies.

Bojana Beric, assistant professor of health studies, believes that genetics play a strong role all types of cancer, specifically skin cancer. “If there is skin cancer in the family, it would be wise not to choose indoor tanning. Therefore, I would advise everybody to look into their family history. If someone has fair skin or light, they usually have a predisposition for skin cancer.” Beric adds that she is unaware of any cosmetic preventive care to lessen the negative effects of indoor tanning.

Dr. James Konopack, assistant professor and coordinator of health studies, says students should recognize that misinformation about tanning abounds. “Research demonstrating the salutary consequences of vitamin D synthesis or supplementation should not be used to rationalize the use of UV radiation beds, which empirical research has demonstrated to be carcinogenic. In my view, the inclusion of UV radiation beds in some ‘health clubs’ also creates a false perception that the practice of tanning is not only safe, but something that should be practiced by those striving for a healthier lifestyle.”

Baskies has a similar viewpoint. “There are a number of misleading and false claims. Tanning salons will tell you, ‘your vitamin D levels will increase.’ There are no health benefits. It’s not true,” he says.

In March 2010, the Obama Administration’s health care bill placed a 10 percent tax on individuals using tanning salon services. However, a survey of 308 tanning salons show the recent tax does not seem to be hurting the industry economically; one in four salons said they had seen a drop in business, but the majority had not noticed a difference, according to a January 2012 article on foxnews.com. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the indoor tanning industry’s revenue is estimated to be 2.6 billion dollars.

Baskies believes the implemented tax is not high enough. “It should be banned completely. They need to outlaw tanning salons.”

As for how many times one should tan by the box before they start to intake some of these health risks, Beric insists one can never be sure. “We don’t know how long it takes to be exposed to the rays. It can take years from any kind of radiation until the change of cell manifests itself as a cancer. The interesting thing is if people choose go back to tanning salons after they have been exposed to some form of skin cancer.”

IMAGE TAKEN from rhinoplastyinbeverlyhills.com