Frying under the sun

The many methods that are used to tan have turned what used to be a hobby into an art form.
“I go to a tanning bed about once every two weeks,” said a senior who wishes to remain anonymous because of her parents’ disapproval.

“You have to keep going to get a noticeable tan  that lasts. My parents aren’t okay with it because it’s obviously dangerous, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, and I look a lot better with it. Everybody tans, just some people do it from the sun, but this is more convenient for me.”

Among people who use tanning beds, the better bed is considered one that provides more ultraviolet A rays than ultraviolet B rays.

The tanning salon insists that the UVA rays aren’t as harmful to a person’s skin because of their larger electromagnetic wavelength, whereas the UVB rays cause sunburns.

However, this is a misconception.

“Tanning booths usually concentrate on UVA rays instead of UVB because UVA rays cause deeper concentration so you get more of a brown color instead of burning,” dermatologist Dr. Stuart Kaplan said.

“But UVB is the alarm clock that says ‘hey dummy, get out of the sun.’ As a result, these people go to tanning booths and think ‘I’m not burning,’ but they actually are. Basically, by taking out the UVB you’re getting all the dangerous rays just without the burning that warns you it’s been too long.”

The extent to which a person can darken or “tan” their skin has to do with many factors including race, previous exposure to sunlight and complexion. While everyone is vulnerable to sunlight to some degree, paler-skinned people, ironically those more likely to tan, are burned or develop skin damage more frequently.

“It does vary because the type of skin that you have will allow more or less sunlight to damage your skin,” Kaplan said. “The darker you are the more protected you are from ultraviolet light. But, even if you have very dark skin and don’t burn, you are still damaging your skin.”

Other than tanning beds, Mystic tans, which are UV-free spray-on skin dyes, are also popular as an alternate form of fake tanning.

Often, it is the choice between health and beauty.

“It was the Friday before semiformal, and like almost everybody was orange,” Clare Bergman ’08 said. “The guys were so mean about it (to another girl), and it made me never want to get a fake tan.”
Because the orange color of the skin often reveals a person’s Mystic tan, many choose to either use tanning beds or tan outside. 

“During the summer you go to the beach a lot, and I didn’t want to go out there and be all white,” Alex Wittenberg ’08 said. “So I needed to tan beforehand.”

Before big events that occur during the winter season it is almost impossible to tan naturally, even in California, causing students to choose to apply the instantaneous Mystic tan or to use tanning beds.
“I like looking tan in my semi-formal dress,” the anonymous senior said, “and it’s not sunny enough during that time to do it the natural way.”

In fact, despite the popularity of tanning, many students want to hide their tanning routines because they fear not appearing natural.

The fear of having their salon secret exposed is exacerbated amongst boys.

 “I know none of my guy friends have ever admitted to going to a tanning salon,” Wittenberg said.
Part of the stigma against tanning beds resides with the danger, but some mistakenly insist that everyone needs to tan at least a little bit to obtain essential vitamins, Kaplan said.

 “The amount of sunlight you need to get Vitamin D and metabolism you get from just going outside and walking to your car,” he said. “You don’t need to lie outside to get it because you get it from brief sun exposure while doing normal activities.”

In fact, no amount of tanning is beneficial.

“There is no such thing as a safe tan,” Kaplan said. “The less sun the better because ultraviolet light is cumulative over your lifetime and like any other form of radiation, the more you get the closer it brings you to getting freckles, age spots, wrinkles and skin cancer.”

Although these dangers are well-known, some students continue to tan, disregarding the risk because skin damage doesn’t occur immediately.

“Yeah I’m well aware of being out in the sun too long,” Wittenberg said.

“But it’s not like I go out there to bake myself. When you’re out there with your friends, you’re not thinking at that moment, ‘Oh I’m going to get skin cancer.’ It’s an ignorant act like drinking Diet Coke. You know it’s bad for you, but everyone does it anyway.”

Because of the often gradual nature of skin cancer, students choose to ignore the dangers.

“The more color you get earlier in your life the worse off you are,” Kaplan said.

“It accumulates and your skin eventually exceeds its ability to protect itself. I see many older people who come in to me and say ‘Why am I getting skin cancer and wrinkles if I wear sunscreen every day,’ and I have to tell them that it is too late.”

Although many students continue to tan despite the danger, others are more cautious because they have learned the hard way.

“I had to have surgery on my chest because I had the beginning stages of melanoma because I had been in the sun ,” David Alagem ’08 said.  

“I’m just a little more aware now. Now when I go on vacations which is usually always to a sunny spot, I wear a swim shirt.”

Even those who use sunscreen are not always in the clear.

“People that use sunscreen think it helps,” Kaplan said. “But all it does is make that person spend a longer time in the sun because they’re not getting as red.”