Sunning with indoor tanning equipment to get the cosmetic effect of darker skin is what some teens are after as prom and vacation breaks approach. But professional opinions differ on what — if anything — constitutes safe tanning.
Sunning with indoor tanning equipment to get the cosmetic effect of darker skin is what some teens are after as prom and vacation breaks approach.
But professional opinions differ on what — if anything — constitutes safe tanning.
Kristi Gibson, general manager of The Sun Room Tanning, with several locations throughout Illinois, said there’s a smart way to tan, “and that’s by not burning yourself.”
“We will have people come through the door and say, ‘I want to burn.’ No, you don’t. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll tan after I burn. I have to burn first.’ No,” Gibson said. “People have a lack of education. Consistently burning yourself is not healthy whatsoever. To me, there’s a smart way to tan — going slow and not overexposing yourself is a healthier way to tan.”
But Dr. Carolyn Jacob, a dermatologist who is founder and medical director of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology in Chicago, said there’s nothing safe about a tan whether it’s developed outdoors or indoors.
“There’s actually research that shows that tanning booths, which are comprised primarily of UVA (ultraviolet A) rays, increase your risk of developing melanoma, which is the deadliest form of (skin) cancer, by 75 percent,” Jacob said.
Gibson urges teens to avoid burning and to avoid too much exposure to anything that will tan your skin. Jacob reiterates that she believes there is no safe way to tan.
“The scientific facts are that tanning, in any amount, causes damage to the skin, which can lead to skin cancer, more so in people who are fair skin than darker skin — but the darker skin ones don’t need to go tanning,” Jacob said.
Dr. Elizabeth Strow, with Strow Dermatology in Springfield, Ill., said she is against tanning in general and tanning beds in particular because of the increased risk of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma shown in studies on tanning beds.
“These kids (are) going in and ruining their skin,” said Strow, who in the last year saw eight people under age 25 with melanoma.
“It’s an UVA tan, which penetrates deeper into the skin, causes more of the photodamage, so it’s going to cause more of the aging of the skin, so these kids are going to look older besides their higher risk for melanoma and other skin cancers,” she said.
Strow said she thinks tanning, like smoking, is an addiction that should be broken.
“With these kids going for prom, they’re all tan. We have to get away from the mindset that tan is pretty,” Strow said. “When you look at people in Hollywood now, you see Nicole Kidman, these people with that beautiful pale skin. You don’t see people all tan. You don’t see people all smoking anymore.”
Page 2 of 3 - Tanning beds can decrease immune response in skin and cause cataracts, Strow said. People who say they get sun for exposure to vitamin D would do well to get the vitamin through their diet or oral supplements, both Strow and Jacob said. Vitamin D comes from UVB (ultraviolet B rays), and tanning booths don’t have many UVB rays, Jacob said.
“Even if they don’t believe the statistics and the risk for this cancer, they’ve got to look around and see people who look horribly old because of their tanning. It just destroys the skin,” Strow said.
Teens tan for prom, vaca
Gibson said this is a popular time of year for teens to use tanning facilities because of proms or because they are preparing for vacations.
“Normally, they have a parent that is bringing them to tan, so they have a parent that’s a little more educated. So, they’re kind of guiding them along the lines as well,” Gibson said.
Tanners can only tan for a certain number of minutes their first time, she said.
“There’s an actual skin chart that tells us — do you burn easily, do you tan well — things like that. Depending on how often they tan, there are so many different factors,” Gibson said.
Tanners at The Sun Room Tanning are treated individually, Gibson said.
“You might have two girls standing at the counter, and one girl’s hair color and eye color is completely different. She might be able to handle a little bit more time than the next girl,” Gibson said.
“Each person is asked a series of questions — are you on any medication, when was the last time you tanned, different things like that — and then we regulate their actual tanning time from specific things,” she said.
The Sun Room Tanning employees are trained on the sensible way to tan, Gibson said.
“I cannot sit here and tell you it is 100 percent safe. Legally, I can’t tell you that, but also, it’s like, I can’t tell you to go get in your car and you’re going to be completely safe and never get into a wreck,” she said.
Spray tan brings common ground
Some dermatologists and tanning salon officials on opposite ends of the issue have met on common ground when it comes to a safe alternative to tanning.
“You can do self-tanner where you get the spray tan done. That’s totally safe. Makes you look good — isn’t going to cause skin cancer or worse yet, wrinkles. Wrinkles seem to scare people more than skin cancer does,” said Jacob, the dermatologist. “ … You can go get a spray tan done, and then use your own self-tanning cream at home to kind of keep it up.”
Page 3 of 3 - The Sun Room Tanning has an alternative to tanning called the "UV FREE Mystic" spray tan.
“We do have a lot of younger teens that will do this for their events. Over the past few years, this has become a very popular way to get color without having to (lie) in a tanning bed,” Gibson said.
Jacob said she sees a lot of atypical moles and skin cancers from overexposure to the sun, whether from tanning booths or the regular sun.
“Of course, it’s job security for us if you want to send everyone to the tanning beds,” Jacob said.