Shedding Light on Tanning

Oct 292003
Authors: Christiana Nelson

Mikaela Vetters hates to be pale, so when the summer sun slipped

away she turned to tanning beds as a resource to keep her tan.

Vetters is not alone; every year 28 million Americans visit

indoor tanning salons and the number increases yearly, according to

the Indoor Tanning Association.

“I would feel retarded if I didn’t tan because I would glow in

the dark otherwise,” said Vetters, a junior zoology major.

Julia Meyerrose, a senior sociology major, takes a different

approach to her lack of suntan in the winter months.

“I don’t like being pale, but I feel better being pale than I

feel being burned,” Meyerrose said.

Two students, two opinions; yet, Vetter’s plan of tanning

indoors one to two times per week may have serious consequences for

her future health, according to a study released by the American

Academy of Dermatology in May 2001.

Tanning beds emit more UVA radiation than UVB radiation, which

is often associated with sunburn. Therefore, tanning salons were

seen as a safe alternative to outdoor tanning for years, but the

AAD study compared skin biopsies exposed to indoor tanning to

unexposed skin biopsies, concluding that the ultraviolet radiation

emitted by tanning beds causes skin damage and may lead to skin


Claire Smith, clinic coordinator for Hartshorn Health Service,

said the proportion of UV rays in indoor tanning does differ from

outdoor sun exposure, but the same rules apply for protecting skin

from future health consequences, such as cancer.

“Everything in moderation,” Smith said. “Tanning in a salon is

more controlled than tanning outside and you are less likely to get

burned, but the problem is that if you tan year-round you

accumulate damage and put yourself at a higher risk for serious

health consequences.”

The AAD reports that in the United States this year, 1 million

new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed. Melanoma, the deadliest

form of skin cancer, accounts for 51,400 of those cases and will

lead to nearly 8,000 deaths this year alone.

For Fort Collins resident Kathy Walter, the statistics are very

real. Her husband, Bill Walter, grew up in Dayton Beach, Fla., and

loved to be outside in the sun, but he never wore sunscreen. In

1995, he was diagnosed with stage-five melanoma and died in 1998 at

age 36.

Since her husband’s death, Walter’s family and friends founded

the Bill Walter III Melanoma Research Fund and Kathy has become an

advocate for raising awareness of the health consequences of sun


“Our melanoma research foundation believes (tanning salons) are

just as dangerous as the sun,” Walter said. “We don’t approve of

tanning salons.”

Despite the health warnings, Tara Sparks, manager of Sun Bear

Tanning Salon, said that customers continue to come.

“We have about 700 customers a week now, but in the busy season

of February, March, April and May we have about 2,000 customers a

week,” Sparks said.

Justin Seweryn, a junior natural resources management major,

thinks that the health consequences are just one of the downsides

to tanning.

“I think it’s ridiculous; what’s the point?” Seweryn said.

“You’re not doing yourself any favors health-wise, it’s an

expensive hobby and you’re just taking up your time lying


Erica Michael, manager of Sunset Beach Tanning Salon, said that

while 18- to 35- year-old customers normally opt for traditional

tanning beds at $5 per session, many customers over age 35 use a

spray-on tanning machine, which costs $25 per session.

“People just like to come and relax, get tan and look good,”

Michael said. “The women who used to tan with baby oil when they

were younger tend to come in for the spray-on because it is

quicker, it only takes 28 seconds, and it is aloe-based so it is

good for the skin.”

Michael acknowledges that any kind of tanning has consequences

and people need to be smart about how often they expose their skin

to UV rays.

“(Sunset Beach) tends to be a little bit conservative. We don’t

let people tan every day and try to discourage them from going for

the full time,” Michaels said. “You can get a smart tan or you can

abuse your body. We try to encourage smart tanning.”





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