In our society, being tan is a wonderful thing. A tan makes your teeth look whiter, your hair look blonder and your stomach look flatter. I’m no stranger to how good tanning makes you look. I have, many times in my life, complained that I can’t pull off white dresses or that my forearms are so pale, they are translucent. (If you don’t believe me, I’d like to invite you to look at my forearm and see every detail of my veins).
However, I have had considerable more pain brought to me by cancer than my pale complexion.
Yes, I am “that person.” That one who mentions health risks in everyday conversation, because while pale skin may not look too good, neither does skin with a malignant tumor. The Skin Cancer Foundation has said it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it. The World Health Organization has said it. I’m saying it too – tanning, especially in tanning beds, significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.
The World Health Organization – yes, the same organization that desperately tries to stop new strains of flu and get malaria nets to impoverished children – added tanning beds to the list of the most cancer-causing forms of radiation in 2009. Numerous studies from the WHO and others have found that young people who use tanning beds or lamps increase their risk of melanoma by 75 percent.
While it may seem like indoor tanning will be in decline soon because of summer starting, it likely won’t. Just because the sun is out most days doesn’t mean that people will give up their tanning beds. I know people who go tanning on hot summer days. Tanning beds also are available every day, sometimes 24-7, rain or shine. Then there’s the ever-persistent and wrong myth about “base tans.” A base tan won’t help keep away sunburns if you stay in the sun too long, and any tan – even the first one of the season – is a sign of skin damage.
I promise I didn’t write this column to terrify readers. But many people don’t know the risks of tanning, indoors or out, and melanoma rates are continuing to soar among my generation. Remember that outdoor tanning, intentional or incidental, isn’t good for the body either. Having any color from tanning other than your natural pigment indicates skin damage. For healthy skin that won’t wrinkle when you’re older, like overtanning skin is prone to, be sure to wear a sunscreen every day and reapply if you spend a lot of time under the sun.
For anyone now looking for some healthy color – or any teenage girls who get banned from $5 Tuesdays after their parents read this – I recommend Jergens Natural Glow. It takes about two weeks to take effect and actually looks, well, natural. Many body lotions come in tinted varieties these days, so pick one up and be sure to apply regularly. Natural Glow creams will keep you looking tan today and staying healthy for years to come.
• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.