Teens and Tanning Beds: A Risky Business

teens using tanning beds at higher riskSummer is just around the corner and many are hitting the nearest tanning salon for that perfect sun-kissed, swimsuit worthy tan. The popularity of indoor tanning has grown dramatically in the last few years, with frequent users going weekly, even daily, to keep up the bronze beauty.

But researchers are concerned about the high-risk of teens using indoor tanning. And after Brittain recently passed a teen tanning bed ban, some American lawmakers are considering the same. In fact, 30 states already have age restrictions or require parental consent. Yet, many teens are somehow still bronzing up at the tanning beds.

So, why are tanning beds more dangerous for teens?

Compared to an adult, a teenager has more sensitive skin, which can be easily damaged. The earlier age a person begins to tan, the higher the risk is in developing a form of skin cancer, such as melanoma, basal, and squamous cell carcinoma.

One million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year. And dermatologists are seeing a rise in the number of skin cancer patients who are in their late teens and early twenties.

Tanning is dangerous, whether it is from the sun or from indoor tanning. But the dangers involved are somewhat higher from indoor tanning.  

When you are out in the sun, the sun emits both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays burn the outer epidermis layer of your skin, causing sunburns.

But when you visit a tanning bed, you are exposing your skin to mainly UVA rays, or radiation. UVA rays break through the upper epidermis layer of the skin, activating cells known as melanocytes in the dermis layer below. Melanocytes then produce a brown pigment called melanin, which makes your skin tan.

This production, however, can get out of control. Typically, these cells clump together and form a harmless mole, but they can start to grow rapidly, stick together, and form tumors. Melanocytes can also damage the surrounding tissue of a particular mole as well. When these changes begin to occur, skin cells are then considered cancerous.

As if cancer isn’t scary enough, when UVA rays reach the underlying layers of the skin, they also damage the dermis. The dermis layer is where your nerves and blood vessels are. In turn, these rays begin to damage your immune system, which is dangerous when your body is trying to protect itself from the different forms of skin cancer.

Tanning Bed Use and Teens

In the U.S., 2.3 million teens visited a tanning salon last year. And 76% of teens who live in the 100 largest cities in the U.S. (including Salt Lake City) live within a 2 mile radius of a tanning salon! That’s walking distance!

Using tanning beds may also be a learned habit. Teens with parents who use tanning beds are 4 times more likely to tan than teens that have parents who have never tried indoor tanning.

Alternatives to Tanning Beds

While there is no federal regulation on tanning bed use for youth, yet, there are certainly dangers involved in exposing your body to these harmful rays. It is up to you to be aware of the risks and to keep your body healthy!

If you are still longing for that golden tan, there are a few alternatives to hitting the tanning bed:

  • Consider a self-tanning spray or lotion. You can usually get a bottle at the drugstore for about $8-$10.
  • Another option is airbrush tanning at the tanning salon. One session runs upwards of about $25.

The tanning agents in self-spray or airbrush options stain only the dead skin cells on the outermost layer of your skin. The tan then begins to fade as the dead skin cells fall off, lasting about a week. Both of these alternatives are far safer than using an indoor tanning bed a regular basis. As always, don’t forget the sunscreen before you head outdoors!

Do you think a tanning bed ban for teens is necessary? Why or why not?


About malloryblack

Hi Everyone! I am a Communications Intern for Salt Lake County Youth Services. Currently, I am finishing up my last few credits at Salt Lake Community College and am about to transfer to Utah Valley University to finish my degree in Public Relations this August. I'm planning to head into non-profit public relations for my career. I enjoy reading books about psychology and finance, getting to know new people, and volunteering within the community. I'm really enjoying my time with Youth Services, especially with my contributions to the Youth Booth Blog. I invite all comments :) So, talk with me! I'd love to hear your perspective and opinions!
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2 Responses to Teens and Tanning Beds: A Risky Business

  1. Sky Thai says:

    I don’t think it is necessary to have a ban on tanning salons but I do believe that warnings, precautions, and written agreements should be more prevalent in tanning salons. I have never been so I do not know if these even exist but that is my standpoint on whether to ban the use or not.

    I also had a question, how about naturally tanning with sunscreen out in the sun? Can you get darker without the harmful effects of UV radiation using sunscreen?

    • malloryblack says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sky. Sorry about the delay in my response.

      I am agree with you about the ban– I think what is important is education, awareness, which is why I included how exactly one gets skin cancer from the sun. A lot of the information I researched didn’t go into too much depth about how it happens, so I wanted to break it down for everyone.

      There’s no way to completely avoid the UV sun’s rays when you head outside, so it is best to take precaution and apply sunscreen, as you’d mentioned. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially when you go out swimming or doing any kind of vigorous physical activity (i.e.: sports). Your skin will darken because of the melanin production, so be sure to take care of your body, so it can continue to take care of you!

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