The Costs Of Indoor Tanning
To tan or not to tan?
Indoor tanning is a popular way to look bronzed in the depths of a Milwaukee winter, but comes with serious health risks often unknown or ignored by indoor tanners.
Ultimate Sun, a tanning salon on 3124 N. Downer Ave., is a popular indoor tanning destination for UWM students. Here owner Sini Skodras ushers in an average of 420 patrons a day in the wintertime, a clientele largely made of UWM students.
Frontpagemilwaukee spoke to student patrons of Ultimate Sun to get a feel for the sentiment regarding the health risks associated with indoor tanning by those who tan. The overall response was one of little or no concern.
The intense UVA rays of a tanning bed are what make indoor tanning especially dangerous, says UWM health educator Colleen Bernstein.
Last year the American Academy of Dermatology began the “Indoor Tanning is Out” campaign to spread awareness of the health risks of indoor tanning.
Indoor tanning’s largest promoter is the Indoor Tanning Association, a powerful organization whose mission statement includes working with federal, and state governments to ensure that the tanning is not restricted.
Restriction of indoor tanning comes in the form of state legislation that prohibits the use of tanning beds by minors.
“I know indoor tanning is bad, but I want to look good now and if I don’t look good when I’m 60, I’m okay with that,” says student and tanner Jane Smith in response to the associated health risks.
“UWM girls and boys are a big part of my clientele,” says Skodras, the owner of Ultimate Sun.
Skodras believes in the good of a fake tan but is still strict with the 24-hour wait policy, part of a state law that does not allow a person to tan more than once a day.
“Everything’s good in moderation, obviously, so if you overdo something it’s just not good and that’s why they implemented the 24-hour wait policy,” Skodras says.
This is part of her effort to promote healthy tanning. Ultimate Sun provides spray tanning as well as the tanning beds, something that she recommends to fair-skinned people who burn easily.
Aside from that, “there’s so many benefit’s of tanning,” she says. “The whole vitamin D factor is amazing and you can control the amount of time you are exposed so you don’t burn. Because that’s the goal: not to burn, and to get tan.”
The Health Risks
Skodras glossed over the more serious health risks of indoor tanning, saying that, like tanning outside, it needs to be done in moderation. Heath educator Bernstein, on the other hand, says tanning, especially indoor tanning, is never safe.
“Any tan is a sign of skin damage,“ she says. “It’s hard to believe that anything so innocuous could be something so potentially dangerous, but it’s over your lifetime.”
Bernstein says the UVA rays are especially strong in a tanning bed because of how intense they are on or inches away from unprotected skin.
UVA rays are more penetrating than UVB rays, can damage the immune system, and are responsible for the appearance of aging tremendously over a person’s lifetime, she says.
The radiation of tanning bed use has been declared a carcinogen by the National Institutes of Health.
Bernstein’s take on vitamin D is that people don’t need to go into a tanning salon to get it in the winter.
“You only need five to ten minutes a day of sun to get vitamin D,” she says. “And you can get that, and you should, in part, from a multi-dose vitamin.”
The paradox is that tanning makes a person feel good about their appearance now, but the cumulative effects cause one to look much older than he or she really is when they hit midlife, Bernstein explains.
The Indoor Tanning Association says that indoor tanning provides a base coat and is a sunburn prevention measure.
But according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “tanning under the sun or a sunlamp gives protection that is equivalent to a sun protection factor (SPF) of 4 or less, which translates into a little extra time in the sun before you start to burn.”
So indoor tanning does help prevent sunburn, but only a tiny bit.
Some tanners, like UWM student Molly Sullivan, go tanning for a specific reason. She is getting married in August and goes tanning every other day so she doesn’t have tan lines when wearing her strapless dress.
Others, like Brianna Weldon, also a UWM student, tan indoors to look bronzed come summer time.
“You can go to the beach during the summer and get the same risks so I don’t think [tanning indoors] is that different from tanning [outside].” she said.
Dan, a UWM student who didn’t want his last name disclosed, says he is aware of the health risks of indoor tanning, but the hazards fall under a wide range of unhealthy things he does.
“We do a lot of things that aren’t necessarily the greatest for us long term,” says Dan about himself and his fellow students. “We drink, smoke, stay up too late, drink too much caffeine, a lot of things that are going to come back and bite us.”
The Indoor Tanning Association
The Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) is an industry trade group representing bed tanning salons, manufacturers, and distributors as well as makers of spray-on tanning products.
The ITA lobbies government officials in regards to prohibitive tanning legislature. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that collects data on money’s influence in elections, the ITA contributed a total of $22,500 to 12 federal candidates in 2008. This data was released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on March 02, 2009.
The ITA is also sponsors media campaigns to inform the public on their stance of indoor tanning.
In May 2008 the American Academy of Dermatology began the “Indoor Tanning is Out” campaign to spread awareness of the health risks of indoor tanning.
“Indoor tanning before the age of 35 has been associated with a significant increase in the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer,” the Academy said in a statement. “Yet, more than one million Americans - 70 percent of which are girls and women, primarily 16 to 29 years old - visit a tanning salon on an average day.”
In response the ITA began a campaign of their own, calling the “Indoor Tanning is Out” as “smear campaign against the millions of Americans who enjoy the benefits of tanning” and saying there is no decreased risk of melanoma skin cancer by avoiding tanning.
Twenty-six states have prohibitive indoor tanning laws. Wisconsin Code Ann. § 255.08 (9)(a) states that a person must be 16 or over to use indoor tanning facilities.
Wisconsin, Illinois, and Texas are the only states that forbid tanning of minors; other states require parent’s permission for their children to use tanning beds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
However, the American Cancer Society found in a 2004 study that state laws are ineffective in controlling minors from indoor tanning. Despite the laws, indoor tanning practices continue to increase in America.
But as the popularity increases, so does the demand for stronger legislation to prohibit indoor tanning. Twenty states introduced new legislation in 2009. In the meantime, Ultimate Sun on Downer continues to see hundreds of people pass through the doors a day, something that will continue in Wisconsin for the time being.