Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States, and recent findings indicate that non-melanoma skin cancer is increasing in young adults, especially young women. It has been shown that ultraviolet light exposure early in life is linked to skin cancer later in life, since younger skin is particularly sensitive to the detrimental effects of ultraviolet light. So, it is particularly disturbing that, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, nearly 2.3 million American teenagers visit tanning salons every year. Furthermore, tanning is now thought to be truly “addictive” because of a proven endorphin release during sun exposure, which only reinforces this unhealthy habit.
More than 80% of teens surveyed did not believe that tanning salons were safer than natural exposure to the sun, yet almost 65% of the students felt that they should be able to use a tanning salon without the consent of their parents. 60% of teens thought that “tan” people were better looking, but 54% of the students said that they do believe tanning now will cause their skin to look ugly in the future; however, they will continue to tan anyway. The overwhelming majority of teenagers did not use sunless tanners.
Clearly, these teenagers believe that “tanner people are better looking.” Although intellectually, these young people (particularly females) realize that tanning may not be healthy for them, they will continue to expose themselves to dangerous ultraviolet rays. Why?!? The two most plausible explanations for this disconnect may be that: 1) teenagers often feel invincible and 2) there is a long lag time between exposure to ultraviolet radiation and the development of skin cancers, so vanity trumps future benefits. So, short of national legislation to prevent teenagers from accessing tanning salons, what else can be done?
The answer may be in addressing the vanity of tanned skin head-on. Rather than continuing to highlight the dangers of tanning to teens who already know it is unsafe but are willing to take the risk…give them safe, affordable, accessible and effective options to get what they want, just without UV exposure: Sunless tanners. Sunless tanning has made huge advances in both ease of application and quality of result over the past few years. Gone are the days of streaky, orange, “fake” looking results. Professionally applied “spray tans” are still available, but there are many at-home products which yield the same great results. There are lotions that can be applied nightly for a gradual change of color over time (Jergens Natural Glow), or pre-moistened wipes which are rubbed over the skin to produce a tan in a few short hours (Tan Towel), just to name a couple. The key to success with any of these products is good exfoliation of dead cells from the skin prior to application, and careful attention to the application directions.
Be proactive and talk with your teen about their safe self-tanner options. As prom and other spring/summer events approach, it is likely that your teen will want to look tan. Help them select the most appropriate self-tanner for their skin type and then be there to support their application efforts. If it keeps them from unsafe sun and/or tanning booth exposure – it just might also save their life!