Teens and Tanning

Summer is upon us and with it comes fun in the sun!  This is also the time of year when teens become very interested in the “perfect” tan. Unfortunately, regardless of whether they are tanning in the backyard or in a tanning salon, tanning is unsafe and the consequences can eventually be life threatening. It is up to parents to educate their teens about the dangers of tanning.

The Dangers of Tanning

Skin cancer among young people is on the rise because so many young people are tanning. More than 1 million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. Even more alarming is that melanoma, an aggressive, potentially fatal type of skin cancer, has increased in young people — it is now the most common type of cancer diagnosed in young adults ages 25-29. Many teens do not know that they are at a risk of developing skin cancer by tanning. They often think it is an “old person’s” disease. Research shows that if your child or teen has one or more significant sunburns, it significantly increases his or her risk of developing melanoma in the future. These early sunburns also increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma, another kind of skin cancer, in the future.

But even if they avoid cancer, tanning absolutely causes the premature aging of the skin. Tanning causes wrinkles, lines, and sagging. These vanity issues may be the most compelling reasons for a teen that doesn’t consider cancer a likely scenario. Tanning increases moles on the body, damages blood vessels in the skin, and damages the various delicate tissues of the eye. Cataracts are also formed by exposure of the eye to UV rays. The World Health Organization believes that 20% of those who are blind from cataracts got them because of exposure to UV rays.

There is a misconception that tanning salons are safe because the tan isn’t caused by sunlight. Because tanning salons can be found just about everywhere, young people perceive them to be safe. Young adults may assume tanning salons are safe because why would they be open otherwise. The tans developed in salons are from UV rays, just like the sun, and have all of the same dangers associated with sun exposure.

Also on the market now are tanning pills, which contain a pigment (canthaxanthin) that can give the skin a yellow-orange color. These pigments are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are considered unsafe. It has also been shown that the pigment can show up in the eye causing injury and problems with vision. The pigment has also been linked with skin and liver problems. Another product is tanning accelerator lotions, which promise to get you tan faster. These products have not been shown to work, and it is uncertain whether or not they are safe. It’s best for your teen to avoid both of these products.

Safe Tanning Options

It’s important that parents are good role models. Your teen will more likely follow sun safety practices if you do, such as wearing sunscreen when going outdoors, avoiding the sun during peak times during the day, and also wearing protective clothing while in the sun. Although there can be a lot of pressure to be tan for the summer, tell your teen that he or she doesn’t need a tan to be attractive. More than likely, that message won’t sink in with today’s youth, so be prepared with two options for a safe tan:

Self-tanners. Sunless tanning products are an effective and safe alternative to traditional sunbathing and tanning beds. Creams, lotions, sprays, and mists all give a sun-kissed glow without the risk of developing skin cancer. These products typically contain DHA which makes the skin look tan by reacting with amino acids in the dead skin cells that sit at the surface of the skin. Self-tanners are regulated by the FDA and are safe. It’s important to let your teen know that if she is using a self-tanner, she still needs to put on a sunscreen!

Excessive use of these self-tanning products can cause the skin to have an orange hue. This is temporary and will fade once the product sloughs off through bathing. Your teen may argue that she will become orange if she uses these products but it is only the excessive use of these products that cause the orange tone. Bronzers are also an excellent tanning alternative that will not turn the skin orange. Sold at any drug store or cosmetics counter, bronzers add an instant sun-kissed look in seconds. You can control how bronze you want your skin by choosing different tones. Just wash off with your regular facial cleanser to remove — it’s as simple as that. Bronzers are a must-have make-up bag item for many celebrities and models.

Spray tans from a salon. Spray tans from a beauty salon also contain DHA and work in the same way as a self-tanner. It just provides an easier and more consistent application than over-the-counter lotions. However, your teen should find out what precautions the salon takes to make sure that the spray doesn’t go in the nose, mouth or eyes.

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