Although winter is still in full force and the average temperature hovers around 20 degrees, whispers of “spring break” and “tanning” have started to fill the air. People who are going to exotic places — or those who want to pretend they went to exotic places — now can sift through a variety of options to get that perfect vacation glow. Regardless of the method used to look a little darker, there are always health risks and precautions to follow.
The Classic Tan
According to an article in the American Journal of Health Studies, more than a million Americans use tanning booths every day, and in the winter, that number increases. As Tanfastic tanning technician Amanda Kenea said, “We have a rush of customers when class begins in January that continues until Easter.”
Often, people tan right before spring break in order to build up a base tan before going to a warm location such as Mexico or the Caribbean.
Tanning is not exclusively for women; according to Kenea, about 40 percent of Tanfastic’s business comes from men. Of course, the most typical way to tan is in tanning booths or beds that deliver concentrated ultraviolet radiation to the tanner. Both Tanfastic, located at 627 Main St., and Campus Tan, located at 611 Church St., offer these conventional options.
“Tanning in beds is what most people do to build up tans,” Kenea said. But just because the beds and booths are easily available does not mean that anyone should walk in to a store on the spur of the moment, unprepared to go tanning.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Tanning is a controversial issue, and the American Cancer Society and many health care professionals decry it as fiercely as members of the field protect it. But ACS warns that indoor tanning is not a safe alternative to outdoor tanning because of its release of “dangerously high levels” of UV radiation.
The ACS website explains that short-term exposure to indoor tanning equipment can cause itchy, dry skin, while long-term exposure can cause wrinkled skin. In addition, tanning beds can cause eye damage, and also weaken the immune system.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, some prescription drugs — including birth control pills — can cause photosensitivity, leading to burns and rashes while tanning. Other common prescription drugs and cosmetics also affect photosensitivity.
But the AJHS article states that combining indoor tanning with sunbathing further increase a person’s cumulative exposure to ultraviolet radiation and the potential risk of skin cancer.
The article also says that tanning devices generate more than five times the solar UVA radiation found at the equator.
Many people tan to prevent burning on a tropical vacation. However, the AJHS article said that according to medical professionals, indoor tans “do not provide a safe ‘base’ tan nor increase protection from sunlight.” In fact, an indoor tan provides a SPF of 2 or 3, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Despite these risks, tanning is still very common, and not just because of the healthy glow it creates.
Nadine Galvraith, an employee at Tanfastic, agrees. “I tan for relaxation,” she said, “I don’t tan to tan.”
Galvraith’s experience is unexceptional, according to a study released last July by researchers at Wake Forest University. The study found that participants who were exposed to UV light reporterd “a more relaxed and less tense mood” afterward, compared to participants in a non-UV tanning bed.
Tanning has been shown to alleviate seasonal affective disorder. This is connected to heliotherapy, another oft-cited benefit of indoor tanning. Heliotherapy is the treatment of disease by exposing the body to sunlight.
Tanning also provides vitamin D to the body, Kenea said. “In the wintertime, you don’t get much of it,” she added.
TIn addition to those benefits, the Indoor Tanning Association says on their website that UV rays provide vitamin D which helps the body control abnormal cell growth as well as help the body produce serotonin and endorphins, resulting in positive feelings and even increased sex drive.
But the FDA does not recognize any health benefits from tanning.
Tanning Safety Issues
One of the most important things to consider is eyewear. According to regulations from the FDA, tanning salons must direct all customers to wear protective eye goggles (it is the customer’s responsibility to wear them).
This does not mean picking up sunglasses from the nearest Meijer’s, closing your eyes or using cotton wads — all of which do not protect the cornea from the intensity of UV radiation in tanning devices. At Tanfastic, they provide stickers which screen out UV rays or goggles to their customers, as well as selling other eyewear options.
Customers should also consider using a tanning-accelerating lotion, which can be purchased at most tanning salons. While not necessary, lotion helps moisturize the skin and, according to lotion companies, helps maintain the tan for longer periods of time. Tanning without a lotion is “kind of like shaving without shaving lotion,” Kenea said.
Most of all, customers should investigate the practices of the tanning salons. Tanning salons should disinfect the tanning beds after each customer, since germs can be transmitted by contact with the beds.
Customers should also check to find out whether the tanning equipment allows them to tan every 24 hours or 48 hours — going more frequently than these time periods can be hazardous.
For those who want more than just UVA rays, Campus Tan offers the “Oxygen Tan,” which essentially consists of a customer tanning in a bed while breathing concentrated oxygen.
There are other sunless options as well. Tanfastic offers the “Mystic Tan,” which sprays sunless tanner all over your body for 60 seconds. While Kenea and Galvraith both said that the “Mystic Tan” was popular, there are drawbacks.
“Mystic Tan does not protect you from the sun, and the sunless tanner can come off in chlorine,” said Kenea.
Also, according to FDA Consumer magazine, the spray consists of the color additive dihydroxyacetone and should not be sprayed in or on the mouth, eyes or nose, which is difficult to prevent in a booth.
Roberts, who had a negative experience with sprayed-on tanning booths, said, “I’ve done it before, and it’s scary. You’re not supposed to breathe, but there’s no way you can’t breathe.”
Many over-the-counter sunless tanners are also available and affordable. Roberts recommended Neutrogena Sunless Tanning Foam with Bronzer. Nevertheless, she cautioned that with over-the-counter sunless tanners, “You have to have patience, and you kind of look orange right after you apply it.”
If all the tanning methods seem too much of a bother before an exotic spring break trip, make sure to pack sunscreen and be aware of what SPF 30 actually does to prevent burning.
SPF numbers are indicators of how long a person can stay in the sun without burning and are different for each person.
SPF 15 blocks 95 percent of UVB rays. And while sunscreens do protect you from UVB rays, they cannot completely protect you from UVA rays. Reapplication is necessary to ensure proper protection.
In the end, despite the dangers of some types of tanning, many students choose the allure of a browned skin tone to stand out in the sea of Michigan paleness.