There are few times I love Ann Arbor more than when it is covered with a fresh blanket of snow. While this idyllic winter wonderland entices me to crawl into bed with a cup of hot chocolate and mini marshmallows, others find comfort in different types of beds, blanketed with UV rays: tanning beds. With gray skies and a forecast akin to the arctic, there seems to be little reprieve for the so-called “tanorexics” enduring a long Michigan winter.

A good tan makes anyone look a few pounds thinner and gives that much-desired glowing appearance (and with spring break fast approaching, who wouldn’t want that?) But students should be aware of the risks associated with tanning beds before seeking one for warmth and color on a cold Ann Arbor day and educate themselves on the pros and cons of indoor tanning. I understand that college students regularly engage in other larger-scale risky activities such as binge drinking, but this issue should be taken just as seriously, because its effects can be just as deadly.

Let’s start on a positive note — everyone looks good with a tan, and at 20 years old, many of us are more concerned with physical appearance than health matters. A little bit of color makes teeth look whiter, skin clearer and, let’s face it, bodies hotter. Not to mention, the UV and UVB rays simulated by tanning beds trigger the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin (the new rage in many health publications).

But don’t be fooled: Many salons cheat by making use of UVA rays which, while producing a desirable color, reduce the potential production of vitamin D. And let’s not forget a tanner’s most coveted fallacy — the claim that the beds provide a valuable base tan. The logic goes something like this: I’m going to be in the sun and I burn easily, so I should get a base tan so I don’t burn, because burning is worse for me than a tanning bed. That sounds logical enough, right? Wrong.

According to some studies, the risk of melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer, can increase by about 75 percent for indoor tanners younger than 30 years old. Most students here fall into that age group, and with two tanning salons within a one-mile radius of the Diag (and many more in the Ann Arbor area), there’s certainly reason for concern. And with papers to review and contracts to sign before entering the tanning contraption (bed), newly-legal college students are prime-aged candidates. Not to mention that the salons know how to target students — we’re all suckers for a good deal. Salons like Big House Tanning offer free tanning to customers who bring a guest and money off to students in the Greek community. Tanners, you may love how you look now, but when you’re wrinkly and sun-spotted by age 30, you’ll be longing to take back those 12- to 15-minute sessions that seemed so harmless at the time.

The concern surrounding indoor tanning has even caught the attention of the political world. It has been proposed that an indoor-tanning tax be enacted to discourage the use of beds and ultimately reduce the number of cases of skin cancer. Though it’s unlikely this would have much of an effect, it’s certainly a promising first step, because a tight budget is always a concern for students.

For now, I encourage students to consider some alternatives to fake baking, as it is doubtful mere warnings will convince people to forgo post-class pit stops at Campus Tan. Yes, that’s right — I’m talking spray tans. While I know everyone fears the orange palms that are the tell-tale sign of a bad fake tan, I assure you not every sunless tanning experience rivals Ross’s spray tan disaster in “Friends” (though it would be quite funny). Salons like Tanfastic even offer sunless tanning deals during football season (because if the University can’t beat any other team, we might as well look better than they do), and the coupon books passed out occasionally on the Diag (the ones with the dollar-bill covers) have special Mystic Tan offers. Airbrush tans are another, though sometimes pricey, alternative, with perks such as hand-painted abs and custom color choice. While these alternatives may not provide the so-called base tan arguably achieved by tanning beds, they do provide the confidence associated with a tan body.

So for all the loyal Wolverine tanners out there, the winter will soon be over, the snow will soon melt and tanning the less-harmful, old-fashioned way will soon be possible. As for me, I’ll safely enjoy the sun while I can until then, but once I’m back in Ann Arbor after spring break it’s back to my real bed and hot chocolate.

Leah Potkin can be reached at

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