Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dark Side of Tanning by Dale Boyd

“GTL” is the unofficial catch phrase for the hit reality show “Jersey Shore”. It stands for “Gym, Tan, and Laundry” which from what I have gathered from watching the show are three of the most important things in life for Ronnie D and “The Situation” (yes that is what they really call themselves). What they apparently didn’t consider when they formed this motto is that excess tanning is dangerous and unhealthy; nearly doubling the risk for melanoma. A few months ago, a “Tan-tervention” was held on the show to show them all the risks of tanning and to convert them to safer spray tans. However, millions of Americans still go to the tanning beds to get the perfect look despite the risks.

Teens and young adults are the group that is most likely to use tanning beds. Melanoma is the second most common type of cancer for 15-25 year olds. Girls frequent them more often than guys, probably because girls usually put more emphasis on their appearances than males. This is not to say that men won’t overexpose themselves to either sunlight or tanning beds. In fact, tanning can become habit forming and for many people, even compulsive in ways that are akin to anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder.

July 1 is the date when Obama’s Tanning bed tax went into effect. Starting now, there will be a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning. One of the justifications for this tax was to offset the healthcare costs brought about by the dermatological illnesses caused by tanning. Of course, there are not currently any proposed taxes on sunlight, but it is clear that the problem of over-tanning is significant enough that it would garner the attention of the highest level of the Federal government.

So why would so many people be willing to risk their health and spend money on darkening their skin anyway? What do they believe that their skin color says about them? There was once a time in the United States when milky-white skin was fashionable and coveted. One of the reasons for this was that white skin was a symbol of wealth and class. Even as far back as Victorian England, women would wear makeup that made them look as white as possible. This makeup often contained toxic substances like lead, thus posing a major health risk.

Skin tone is a genetic trait. Unlike shoes or clothes, which can be changed with the times, there is only so much that one can do to change ones skin color. There was certainly an Anglo-centric bias embedded within the antiquated standard of pale skin color, in that not everyone could attain that standard without outrageously unhealthy means. This was a time when any skin color other than white was considered ugly.

This same phenomenon is still going on, yet now the desired skin color has darkened a bit. Now people are lying half naked underneath powerful UV lights and damaging their skin until they achieve the skin color that they desire. Not only is this unhealthy, but there are many people who no matter how many times they sunburn, they will not get a dark tan. Many people of northern European and Scandinavian descent simply do not have the ability to significantly darken their skin by tanning. They are also more susceptible to skin damage from prolonged UV exposure. Unless they feel like pouring brownish-orange goop on their skin, their skin will never compare to those who are fortunate enough to be genetically “beyond the pale”.
While tanning to the extreme is surely dangerous, there are some health benefits to a moderate amount of sun exposure. Sunlight helps the body produce Vitamin D, and a lack of sunlight can contribute to mental conditions such as depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Moderation is the key.

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