HIGH LIFE : WELL DONE? : Some Flock to Beach, Tanning Salon While Authorities Warn of the Perils

Jennifer Turner, 16, is a junior at Orange High School, where she is a reporter for the Reflector, the student newspaper. Jennifer prefers the beach for sun tanning.

Who is that beauty with the incredible tan?

What? A tan? In the middle of winter?

Yes, when the sun isn’t shining bright enough at the beach, people across the nation flock to catch rays at tanning salons.

Tanning salons, which have been around for years and number between 15,000 and 20,000 nationwide, are usually available to tanners every day of the week. They provide a local haven for sun worshipers, who formerly had to hit the beach in the summertime.


Tanning in a salon can cost anywhere from $3 to $10 for a single 10- to 20-minute session, but most salons offer less-expensive package deals.

As for the physical price, what happens when a passion for the perfect tan turns into painful sunburn, or worse?

Saralie Faivelson of American Health magazine says: “The risks from overexposure to sun lamps include skin cancer, skin and eye burns, cataracts, immune-system damage, blood-vessel injuries and connective-tissue damage leading to premature wrinkling, according to clinical and lab findings.”

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported, tanning machines sent about 2,500 to 5,000 people to emergency rooms with radiation injuries. And the National Cancer Institute estimates 400,000 new cases of skin cancer are detected each year in the United States.


With these statistics staring them in the face, many may ask, why do it?

Psychologists note that for many, the long-term risks of sun exposure are far outweighed by the short-term benefits: a healthy, youthful look and sex appeal.

“I feel good about myself when I’m tan,” said Darcy Davies, a junior at Orange High School. “I think everyone wants to look as good as they can.”

Darcy, who used to work at Tantalize Tanning Studio in Orange, used the salon at least four times a week. Others take time between jobs, homework, friends and social engagements to tan. Many consider the sessions and their cost time and money well spent.

“I was self-conscious about my fair complexion and wanted to have a healthy glow,” said Molly Mazur, a sophomore at Orange High.

While there are those who swear by artificial sunlight, others think salon tanning is not only a waste of time and money but also quite harmful. They are wary of lying under ultraviolet lights--as well as under the sun--in an effort to be transformed into a bronzed beauty.

“I think in the long run, it can hurt your skin,” Orange freshman Kristen Weilmuenster said.

And Dr. Gerald Weinstein, chairman of the dermatology department at the UC Irvine College of Medicine, would agree. Severe burning or constant exposure to the sun over a long period of time (20 years or more) is what causes skin damage, according to Weinstein--damage that can surface in the form of premature wrinkles and a tough, leathery look, as well as skin cancer.


But Darcy Davies said her health is not being jeopardized because “it (tanning) is being done in a controlled environment with moderation.”

According to Vicki Withow, an employee of Tan Central in Orange, there are no harmful, long-term effects that can result from indoor tanning. “It’s been around for about 10 years now and there haven’t been any harmful side effects to speak of,” she said.

Withow said the only negative effect of indoor tanning is sunburn caused by overexposure, which can occur if a customer is under the ultraviolet lights for an excessive amount of time. But a light sunburn can occur with only 10 or 15 minutes of exposure to a sun lamp.

Of course, a person’s skin type influences the susceptibility to burn. People with fair skin, typically redheads or blonds, are most susceptible to skin cancer--the most common of all types of cancer--and those with a family history of skin cancer are also at greater risk.

Jody White, a nurse at Myers Rehlen Allen & Bartlow--a dermatology, surgical and medical group in Santa Ana--says that tanning under ultraviolet is “extremely hazardous.”

The UV lights used in the salons, White says, differ depending on the salon, but UV-A and UV-B rays are both damaging to the skin.

The UV-A rays, or so-called “safe” rays, emitted by tanning lamps are stronger than those emitted by the sun. They give a deeper, faster tan but also intensify damage to the skin.

“It’s an artificial sunlight, which is actually more damaging than the sun at the beach,” White said, adding that there has been a dramatic increase in the instances of skin cancer since the tanning salons have gained popularity.


“Last year, over half a million cases (of skin cancer) were diagnosed,” reported NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Assn. “Except for lung cancer, cancer of the skin is the only cancer that’s becoming more common. As recently as 1982, your chance of developing some form of the disease during your lifetime was one in 250. Today, it’s one in 135, and by the year 2000, it’s predicted to be one in 90.”

There are three main types of skin cancer. The two most common types--which account for 90% of all cases--are basal cell and squamous cell, both of which are related to chronic sun exposure and can be easily removed by a dermatologist--often without scarring--if detected early. They generally show up on the skin in one of two forms--either as a pale nodule with a waxlike, pearly surface or as a red, scaly, sharply outlined patch.

Melanoma, the most lethal but also the rarest form of skin cancer, often stems from a mole distinguished by dark brown or black pigmentation. It is related as much to heredity as the sun--and it also is curable if detected before it reaches the blood stream and spreads to other organs.

The good news about skin cancer is not only that it is preventable, but also that the overall cure rate is higher than 90%.

FDA regulations have set standards for tanning machines, and labels informing consumers of risks are a requirement, according to Faivelson. Salon owners are also required to give adequate instruction on how to use the lamps, an exposure schedule giving both time and frequency and a warning about protective eyeware--the goggles which protect against burning the cornea, which absorbs ultraviolet light to protect the retina.

Dr. Lawrence Sherwin, a Santa Ana dermatologist, says cases of melanoma are increasing at a rate of 10% a year as a result of tanning salons. Cancers, which a decade ago were appearing in people in their 40s, are now showing up in those in their teens and early 20s.

“I think they’re inherently evil,” Sherwin says of tanning salons, on which he advocates a total ban.

Molly Mazur stopped going to tanning salons after 2 months. “I read an article about the danger of tanning,” she said, “and it made me stop.”

Weinstein doesn’t advise the average person to give up the sun entirely, but he says that most people can substantially reduce the risk of long-term skin damage by cutting the intensity of sun exposure by 50%. He says you need only “take a moderate degree of care in avoiding intense sun exposure and avoiding the goal to be heavily and constantly tanned.”

Though the safety of tanning in general has been questioned by medical authorities, many teen-agers continue to view themselves as indestructible.

“Of course, I worry about skin cancer,” admitted Susan Wilson, a junior at Orange High School. “I have sensitive skin, but I don’t feel that tanning booths pose any real danger to my health.”

Added Darcy Davies: “I see indoor tanning as putting me at the same risk as tanning at the beach.”