Posted on Thu, Mar. 28, 2002
By Venise Grossmann
Imagine my surprise after finding my water bottle frozen in my car one cold day in February, then walking into my classroom and discovering several students beaming with the warm glow of a summer tan.
Their bronze look was not due to unseasonable weather. They had what is commonly known as a "fake bake."
Despite what we know about skin care, teens are making unhealthy choices concerning the use of tanning salons.
Some indulge because the bronzed look complements their Britney Spears-inspired outfits. Others are trying to get a base tan for the senior trip. But most are preparing for the prom.
By February, many students have already bought their dresses - some traditionally strapless, others baring their midriff and full backs.
The number of students using tanning salons has risen dramatically. So has the number of salons.
There are more than 25,000 salons in the United States, which generate $5 billion a year, according to the Smart Tan Network, a trade organization.
It estimates that a million people visit tanning salons each day, and that in an average year 28 million people - 10 percent of the U.S. population - visit a tanning salon at least once.
The typical salon customer is a woman between 18 and 35. Seventy-one percent of tanning-salon users between 16 and 29 are female, but the number of high school males who tan that way is also on the rise.
Though tanning salons recommend limiting doses of artificial light to three times a week, many minors do not adhere to these guidelines.
Far worse, students often "overbake." Instead of the recommended seven minutes for the initial tanning session, some tan for 20 minutes and burn their skin.
In the tanning salons, participants have many choices: Should they lie on a flat bed or tan standing? Wear tanning oil? Listen to piped-in music or bring their own CD players? Tan in a bathing suit, tan topless, or tan naked?
Once these choices have been made, they can relax in their private booth, which is why many indulge.
The cost of tanning can range from $8 for a single session to $49 for a monthly membership. Then there's the cost of suntan lotion and protective sunglasses.
Unfortunately, not all teenagers limit themselves to tanning for special events such as the prom. Many tan throughout the year, even in the summer, because they feel it is too hot to tan outside.
Some researchers believe tanning salons should be closed to minors because adolescents do not realize the damage that they are doing to their skin.
The bulbs in tanning salons can be two to three times more intense than sunlight, increasing the risk of skin cancer. Tanning also ages the skin faster. It is not unheard of for tanners to develop skin cancer in their 20s.
When asked, many teenage tanners concede that tanning will probably age their skin and may cause cancer. But you know how young people are. Often they don't see beyond the next few months and are not concerned with long-term effects.
But I have seen what too much tanning can do.
One day I ran into a girlfriend from high school whom I had not seen in quite some time. She had been working part time in a tanning salon and was tanning almost daily. Not only did she look 10 years older than I, but she also had skin cancer.
Many high school students tan because it makes them feel good and raises their self-esteem. But my advice for teenagers is "just say no" to tanning.
Their skin will be radiant enough with excitement on the night of the prom. Why not just leave it at that?
Venise Grossmann is an English teacher at West Deptford High School.
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