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A Safe Tan? No Way, Experts Say
Date:7/9/2011

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The survey also found that 81 percent of the young women said they also tanned outdoors, either frequently or occasionally.

Exposure to UV light at a relatively young age appears to come at a cost. The World Health Organization released a study that found a 75 percent increased risk for melanoma in people whose first exposure to a tanning bed occurred before age 30, Lichtenfeld said.

Researchers also have found an increase in melanoma occurrence on specific parts of the body, particularly the chest and trunk. "They believe it's due to the widespread use of tanning beds," Lichtenfeld noted.

College-age women are most at risk for UV exposure through indoor tanning. The American Academy of Dermatology survey found that women 18 to 22 years old were almost twice as likely as 14- to 17-year-olds to have used a tanning bed.

These women are responding to a message that permeates modern society, Spencer and Lichtenfeld said.

"It's a societal norm that a tan is attractive and desirable," Spencer said. "People like how it looks. They're worried about the prom this weekend."

Add to that the perception of invincibility that young people share -- the idea that nothing can harm them, so there's no reason why they shouldn't use a tanning bed to turn their bodies bronze.

"They don't connect tanning at age 17, 18, 19 with what's going to happen to them at age 40," Lichtenfeld said.

The true irony, experts agree, is that tanning may indeed help them look and feel beautiful when they're young, but it will cause their looks to deteriorate as they grow older.

"UV light causes wrinkled, leathery skin," Spencer said. "It's not a consequence of age. Their tan might last a week or two, but they will have wrinkles earlier."

Proponents of healthy skin have tried educating young women about the risks associated with tanning bed use, but many now believe that legislation may be needed to protect them.

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