We may have just officially entered the winter season, but the tan on some people might belie that fact. I’m not talking about citizens of Hawaii…or Florida…or California. I’m talking about those who live in frostbitten climates, like North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wyoming.
Tanning salons have become commonplace in almost every town in America, and are not just the domain of the young and fit or those who live in the bodybuilding world. Tanning salon customers run the gamut, from 60-year-old grandmothers to 40-year-old salesmen. Based on data collected in the 2005 Health Information National Trends study, 18 percent of women and 6.3 percent of men reported using tanning beds in the past year. Among women who used tanning beds, most lived in the Midwest or South.
The tan itself comes from the use of ultraviolet light, which can trigger the release of endorphins, hence a “feel good” state that isn’t just imagined. That ultraviolet light can damage the DNA of cells, and the process can be damaging to more than just your skin. A 2009 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer division of the World Health Organization, classified tanning beds that emit UV radiation as “carcinogenic to humans”—the agency’s highest cancer-risk category, which also includes radon gas, plutonium, radium, tobacco and the hepatitis B virus.
Unfortunately the nearly 30 million people who go to tanning salons are taking risks with their health. Those risks are numerous and can be life threatening; everything from infections and burns to skin cancer. A study that published earlier this year in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, detailed the increased risk associated with melanoma. Researchers found an increased risk among users of tanning beds, whether they were high-speed machines (which emit some UVB rays) and high-pressure machines (which emit mostly UVA rays).
Consumers using tanning beds had a 74 percent increased risk for melanoma compared to those who never frequented a tanning salon. And for those who spend more than 50 hours under those indoor UV rays, the risk triples. Even worse, the newer high-pressure tanning beds can increase the risk to four times.
Additionally, there appears to be a pattern of addiction among many indoor tanning enthusiasts. (Any type of compulsive behavior, particularly those that result in chemical changes in the brain, can be labeled addiction, and indoor tanning counts among them.) A study published in 2010 in the Archives of Dermatology, polled 421 university students in the Northeast about their use of tanning salons, with almost 70 percent of the 229 students meeting the criteria for addiction. They also found that those addicted were more likely to have anxiety symptoms and/or increased use of alcohol, marijuana, and other addictive substances.