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Indoor Tanning Linked to ‘Risky Behaviors’ Among Teens — but Why Are They Tanning Anyway?

tanning bed

People still really do this? Kids, even?

When I was a kid, my family usually took one beach vacation a year to somewhere like Mexico, Antigua, or Florida. My dad would throw me and my sister in the waves until we were so salt-water logged and exhausted from paddling our little arms in the giant surf that we would pass out on our beach chairs and snooze the afternoon away in our colorful bathing suits, bellies full of icy-cold Cokes.

Did I mention that while we whiled away under the broiling tropical sun, I doused every inch of my body in baby oil? The effects were such that I didn’t tan so much as turn my skin various shades of purple that invariably needed aloe and cold wash cloths, plus tissues to dry the tears that poured down my cheeks from the pain of my head to toe burns.

I know better now, of course. But the damage is done. I go to the dermatologist at least twice a year and over the decades have had countless suspicious moles surgically removed in order to prevent them from potentially turning malignant.

You’d think today’s teens would learn from our mistakes (you’d also think I couldn’t sound any older as I say that, and yet, here I am, managing to sound older than my deceased grandparents). But they haven’t. Maybe teens aren’t using baby oil to brown their skin anymore, but their sun tanning habits are just as risky, as they regularly go to tanning parlors and sit in those god-awful UV-ray tanning beds. And as it turns out, that unhealthy practice can be an indicator of other habits that can be equally, if not more unhealthy.

According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (via Fox News), teens in the United States who use indoor tanning devices are more likely to “take part in other risky behaviors.”

“Researchers from the CDC found that using indoor tanning devices was linked to binge drinking, having sex and using unsafe methods to control weight among high school students,” Fox reports. The study was done because “understanding the relationship between other behaviors and indoor tanning can help public health advocates to understand the tanners’ motivations and better target campaigns to dissuade the practice.”

It’s not surprising that pretty much any organization worth its weight in salt has come out against the practice of indoor tanning beds (including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology). It’s also no surprise that tanning salons still seem to pop up as frequently as Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Sure, various states have age restrictions on who is allowed to use tanning beds — age 17 in New York and 18 in California, for example. Of course, show me a teen who can’t figure out how to forge their parent’s signature on a permission form or produce some sort of a reasonably credible fake ID, and I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale that you just have to see.

But what disgusts me is that this topic isn’t as sexy as, say, talking to kids about tobacco, drug and alcohol use, as well as unsafe sex. When you hear this statistic: “In 2007, a working group affiliated with WHO found that people who used tanning beds before their 30th birthday were 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer.” — how is it that parents aren’t freaking out about the presence of tanning salons in close proximity to their kids’ schools in the same way that so many do about strip joints and medical marijuana shops?

We see photos of super models with big floppy hats covering up their faces on the beaches in St. Barts and other exotic locales. But why aren’t more of them speaking out about the fact that they’re not only protecting against wrinkles but melanoma? Back in the olden days, having lily white skin meant you were the member of a more civilized group that didn’t need to work for a living, as opposed to the lower classes hoeing the fields and having their skin bake as a result.

Times have thankfully changed. And so has the existence of sunscreens and their various forms of potency. Plus, with the advent of nontoxic spray-on tans, why, why, why are kids still attracted to tanning beds? Knowing that tanning beds are essentially a gateway drug to other unhealthy life choices, this needs to be a bigger deal than it is.

There’s no shame in the desire to improve one’s appearance, and it’s absurd to think teens especially aren’t always looking for ways to appear more attractive. But to not impart to kids the risks associated with doing it in a tanning parlor is shameful and irresponsible — not just on their part but for the adults in their lives who really and truly do know better.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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