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Indoor tanning: Is it worth the “glow”?

May 03, 2013

Most teen girls love a good tan. And even though some may know the dangers of indoor tanning, they continue to indulge in this risky behavior. But can you blame them? Society and the media have associated this sought-after golden hue with good health and beauty for years. Popular beauty and fashion magazines are usually graced with images of flawless women with that desirable “sun-kissed glow”. As these young girls navigate the road to try and fit in with their peers and build their self-esteem, we have a responsibility to teach them about the risks associated with their decision to visit the local tanning salon.

Why might my daughter “tan”?

For many teens, a tan makes them look good and feel good. Many girls agree with the statements, “I look better when I have a tan” and “I feel healthy when I have a nice tan”. Yet tanning of any kind, especially indoor tanning, is not healthy at all.

Some girls want to achieve a “glow” for their upcoming dance or beach weekend with their friends. These are known as “event tanners”. And yet some girls tan because it feels relaxing and puts them in a better mood. These are the “regular tanners” and potentially, the group more at risk for developing skin cancer or other side effects of indoor tanning. It has been shown that frequent and continual use of indoor tanning beds share characteristics of addictive disorders. And let me tell you, as a former college student in South Florida, tanning can be addictive. Many of my friends felt the need to tan almost on a daily basis!

Let’s look at some statistics.

A recent study published in the Journal Pediatrics identified the prevalence of indoor tanning among teens and the risk factors associated with this behavior. Here’s what researchers found:
  • Tanning salons are EVERYWHERE. The average US city has 41 tanning salons, outnumbering the number of Starbucks or McDonalds.
  • Tanning is trendy. In a recent survey, 1 in 4 girls reported using an indoor tanning booth in a given year.
  • Indoor tanning becomes more popular with age. The rate of indoor tanning doubled among girls ages 14 to 15 and doubled again at age 17.
  • Melanoma is the 2nd most common cancer for women in their 20s.
  • Indoor tanning can be deadly. Those who use indoor tanning booths have a 20% increased risk of melanoma. For women that started tanning at age 35 and younger, this number is doubled.
  • There are only 2 states that have banned indoor tanning for minors under the age of 18, although many other states have rules and regulations in place.
Here’s the point. Indoor tanning puts young girls at risk for developing skin cancer, yet it remains a popular activity among teens and it doesn’t look like the indoor tanning industry is going anywhere anytime soon.

That’s where parents and health experts come in. The study also points out that parents, more specifically mothers, have a large influence on their daughter’s tanning habits. It was shown that girls who had gone tanning with their mothers during their initial experience were four times more likely to become heavy tanners, when compared to girls who had gone alone or with friends. On the same note, girls who had gone tanning with their mothers began tanning at a significantly younger age than those who had gone without their mothers.

Here are some suggestions for your teenage “tanner”:

  • If you daughter is an “event tanner”, suggest using a spray tan or self-tanning lotion to achieve the “glow” they desire.
  • For “regular tanners”, suggest some form of exercise, such as running, dancing, or other form of aerobics to improve their mood and help with relaxation, instead of relying on the tanning bed.
Ask your pediatrician to talk to your daughter about the risks associated with indoor tanning at an early age. As a former “event tanner”, I will tell you that once you start tanning, it’s hard to break that habit because of the “instant gratification” achieved after 15 minutes in the tanning bed. Fortunately, for me, I have a mother who continually encouraged me to think about the harm I was doing to my body and in time, I realized she was right. It’s just not worth the risk.

Do you have a teenage “tanner”? How do you encourage them to make smart choices?