Banning Tanning: Why Fake Baking and Minors Don’t Mix

American Academy of Pediatrics Urges Americans to Keep Teens Under 18 Out of Tanning Salons


Tanning beds may help you fit in with the “Jersey Shore” crew, but they pose dangers to unaware minors. ( Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Published: March 30, 2011

Around this time three years ago, my best friends and I began to engage in a fierce competition over who could master the four-letter word at the top of every high school girl’s list—prom.

We called each other wailing about dress fittings gone awry, red blisters left on our stiletto-clad feet from breaking them in and weekly hour-long waits at the tanning salon sifting through decade old magazines.

Though prom night was everything cheesy teen movies tell us it should be, there is one step I really wish I’d skipped—the trips to the tanning beds.

Did my 17-year-old Juicy Couture tracksuit-clad self care about any potential health risks? Of course not. The people around me were doing it, and I just wanted to look as orange as everyone else did for prom.

Now I know better, having realized that the combination of orange skin and blue tracksuits made me look like I had stepped out of Oompa Loompa land. More than that, I have a greater understanding of the risks I was taking for the sake of being tan.

A study from last May conducted by the American Association for Cancer Research found that for women in my age group (20-29), melanoma is the second most prevalent and the deadliest type of cancer. The risk of melanoma is 74 percent higher in people who use tanning beds, compared with those who tan naturally. How can that be?

Remember those times when you went to the beach during the summer and by lunchtime you felt like a steak on a barbeque grill? Well, the intensity of the radiation in tanning beds can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun.

And the more time you spend lying in a tanning bed, the greater your chance is of developing wrinkles later in life and melanoma, a disease that kills close to 9,000 people per year.

Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics is urging a ban on children and teens under 18 from patronizing tanning salons that pose such a great risk to their health.

Already, more than 30 states have laws on the books to curtail the use of indoor tanning by minors; a few of them have an outright ban on children under 14 from these salons.

Though I snapped out of my Snooki stage soon after I arrived at college, I wish that I had never set foot in a tanning salon.

In a recent declaration by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, tanning beds were labeled Class I carcinogens, just like tobacco and asbestos.

While I strongly advocate freedom of choice, there must be regulations set in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society. In this case, that is children and teens too young or influenced by peer pressure and the media to make informed decisions.

There is a reason why we limit the sale of tobacco and alcohol to those who have reached adulthood: to promote safety and to ensure that the people who decide to use these substances understand their limits and the possible consequences of their actions.

In a high school where orange was the predominant skin tone, I can say from experience that young teenagers need guidance, especially to steer them away from things that will do them harm.

Today’s teenagers are exposed to the likes of the Jersey Shore and countless trashy copycat reality shows on MTV, which present a world where consequences are either nonexistent or serve as a means for publicity.

While some have argued that parents should ultimately be left responsible for the actions of their children, in matters of child safety, there have always been safeguards set in place. Some parents are not fully aware of the risks while others can be persuaded by a few pouts and whimpers, especially with something as seemingly harmless as getting a tan. And there’s nothing to stop a teenager from forging a parent’s signature on a permission slip.

There’s no need to risk permanently damaging your body when you can tan during the summer months in a natural, safer way: out on the beach with a radio, a bunch of friends and a bottle of sunscreen. And during those frosty winter months, you can take a walk to your local drugstore and buy a bottle of self-tanning lotion for the price of a cheap lunch. The best part? Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—no adverse effects from the use of this kind of lotion have been reported since 1973.

Though we’ve all left our underage days behind us, maybe this new law will make us step back and really think about what we’re doing to our bodies. While my bleached blonde, hoop earring-loving high school self (no, you cannot see pictures) might have thought the world had ended with the banning of my beloved cancer beds, I now know the harm I was doing to my body all to fit an image, and a not-so-pretty one at that.