The risk of developing skin cancer was high enough back when we all flocked to the beach to stay under the sun’s hot rays for hours at a time without sunscreen. The good part about that was—well, at least in Michigan and other cooler climates—it was only once a year. However, with the advent and growing popularity of tanning beds, we are able to get that bronzed look year-round. Sadly, this has also resulted in more young people developing skin cancer at alarming rates.
Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, makes up only 3% of all cancers but still results in 8,000 deaths a year. Doctors are also extremely concerned over three new factors: the rates of Melanoma are beginning to rise, it has become the most common type of cancer for young people, and many of the cases are directly attributable to addictive indoor tanning behavior.
Once upon a time, soaking up rays was limited to a particular time of day, during a particular time of the year, and only on clear days. The tanning bed changed all that in the 1990s by providing everyone, no matter their locale, the opportunity to tan at any time. In fact, since 1992 the indoor tanning industry has grown five-fold with 28 million indoor tanners in the U.S. supporting a billion-dollar-a-year business. During the same time period, Melanoma rates have increased by 2% in the general population and increased by 2.2% among young women, who make up 71% of the indoor tanning population. Moreover, over that same time period, skin cancer became the most common type of cancer among 25 to 29-year-olds, a group that usually has the lowest rate of cancer.
While some people have argued that indoor-tanning lovers can “tan responsibly”, most doctors are telling their patients to “just say no”—the same way they would tell them to avoid drinking and smoking. However, Dr. Jennifer Stein, a professor of dermatology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, is worried that the “simply say no” approach isn’t enough to resolve the real problem behind young women’s addiction to indoor tanning. Instead, she believes that the problem lies with the American standard of beauty and that if we removed the nonsensical social pressures for tanned skin, young women would no longer feel compelled to kill themselves slowly in tanning beds.