FEATURES: States Moving To Protect Teens From Over-Tanning

(Photo courtesy worldnow.com)

(Photo courtesy worldnow.com)

By Jessica Cuevas – Staff Reporter

Glenna Kohl started using tanning beds when she was 16. It started out as an occasional thing, only for prom and graduation, but as her love for being bronze grew, so did the amount of hours she spent in a tanning bed. She was at the salon almost as often as once a week. This habit grew quick and soon enough she became diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, at age 25. It changed not only her life but her entire family’s.

“She wasn’t resentful; she focused on getting better,” said her father, Bob. “Back when we all first got the news, it wasn’t a matter of if but how soon she’d be cancer-free.” Glenna is just one of the 2.5 million teens that use tanning booths each year. 35% of these girls are only at the age of 17 and many girls start as early as age 13.

Many people, including the 2.5 million teens that use beds, do not realize how dangerous beds can be to your skin and health. More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,200 melanomas.

Tanning beds emit mostly UVA (ultraviolet A) rays that penetrate deep into the skin, as deep as the dermal-epidermal junction. These rays can damage your cells’ DNA at precisely the place where most melanomas begin.

Essentially this all causes abnormal cells to begin to grow which is how melanoma can form. Tanning beds also emit some UVB (ultraviolet B) rays that also increases your chances of getting melanomas as well as other types of skin cancer.

There are other negatives impacts of tanning as well besides cancer.

There are often dieses found in correlation with tanning use in the eyes, most often these diseases can be treated like inflammation in the cornea, but other chronic eye problems can be developed like cataracts.

Other effects of tanning include photoaging, a term that refers to premature aging of the skin due to exposure to UV radiation. The skin will typically develop a texture similar to leather and wrinkles, it will sag and sun spots can develop.

The most overlooked effects are the ones you can’t physically see happening like spread of diseases such as staph infections and some sexually transmitted diseases in beds that are not sufficiently cleaned and disinfected between uses. Excessive exposure to UV rays can also affect the immune system, making your body vulnerable to disease.

Tanning is also particularly dangerous for younger users because people who begin using tanning beds during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of getting melanoma.

“We’re seeing younger and younger patients coming to us with skin cancer,” said Dr. Eleni Linos, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Francisco. “That is a new phenomenon.”

Some states in the U.S. have taken note on this issue and begin to pass laws prohibiting indoor tanning for minors younger than 18. These states include California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas and Vermont. If indoor tanning has to be prohibited in some states, then wouldn’t you think that teens would finally understand that it’s not good? Apparently not.

Many people do not even begin to think about all these risks and how detrimental tanning is to our health when they head to salons to try and achieve their perfect tan. Glenna sure didn’t think about the risks when she began tanning.

Of course she knew that is was bad for you but never believed that it was that serious, that a little tanning would do no harm. “As health-conscious as Glenna was, she didn’t connect tanning with skin cancer,” said Colleen Kohl, her mother.

Like Glenna, the risks with tanning and skin cancer are often overlooked in girls her age. They are only a mere thought compared with the desire to be golden tan. This is because being tan is almost always associated with being “pretty”, while pale is perceived as being “ugly.”

This theory has been investigated at many universities. Researchers use websites that allow users so rate each other, in this case they used Hotornot.com, to see if your hotness score raised when they Photoshopped people to tanner.

They photoshopped 45 photos of women who were aged 21 to 35 to look more tan. The original photos and the photoshopped versions were posted to the website at different times in the day. The researchers found that the darker version was twice as likely to be rated as more attractive.

“When I look in the mirror I feel more attractive when I’m darker, like my face is prettier. It’s 100 percent a confidence boost for me,” says Lauren Kafka age 31 from Miami, who uses a tanning bed around three times a week.

There have been many campaigns by health organizations to warn the public about the risks of tanning but have had limited success. Even with awareness there are still about 28 million Americans that frequently use tanning booths each year and tanning-bed use among teens has been growing as well.

One campaign that’s been trying to spread awareness is the “Take a Stand, Don’t Tan!” campaign run by the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF). They encourage everyone to take their pledge to avoid using indoor tanning beds and also try to educate everyone on the physical impacts tanning has on the body.

Tanning not only has physical impacts on your body, but also economical impacts to your wallet. According to Business Wire, in 2003: 10% of Americans spend on average $300 per year to tan indoors. This equates to a total U.S. market for tanning of over $9 billion per year, and does not include the $3 billion tanning products market.

This cost doesn’t include the tanning lotions, the membership cards you can receive in order to get special perks or deals. Also this doesn’t include the extra amounts of money people will pay to get unlimited sessions.

Also, a law passed back in 2010 by the Obama administration states that businesses who offer indoor tanning services are required to collect a 10 percent excise tax, on top of the state’s already set sales tax, on the indoor tanning services they provide. Of course the law passed caused unnecessary costs to already pricey tanning packages so it was then repealed in early 2015.

Unfortunately the biggest impact of tanning is death. In December 2008, Glenna Kohl had lost her fight to cancer and passed away. She was only 26.

Her parents, being as devastated as they were, decided to start a campaign in honor of Glenna to raise awareness to the importance of melanoma and UV protection. “Glenna’s not here to inform people of the dangers,” said her mother, “so we’re going to continue her work for her.”

Glenna leaves her legacy of hope that one day people will realize the costs of tanning aren’t worth it. Hopefully her passing and her story will make you think twice about heading out to tanning salons.

(Some information courtesy cosmopolitan.com, mfne.org, skincancer.org, abcnews.com, wisebread.com)

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