Tanners Seek UV Rays Despite Dangers

Summer is on the way and that means millions of people will be gearing up for one of America's favorite pastimes — getting the perfect tan.

Despite years of skin cancer warnings from doctors, millions of people head to the beach each year, oil in hand — sans the umbrella — to get started on their summer tans.

Indoor Tanning

To get ready for the beach, many of them head to the tanning booths first. More than a million people put their bodies beneath the powerful ultraviolet rays of indoor tanning beds every day.

The $2 billion indoor tanning industry is still going strong even though most people know that skin cancer is a risk. It can be caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays, whether they come from the bulbs of indoor tanning machines or from the sun.

Many tanning salons say 15 or 20 minutes in a tanning bed is much safer for your skin than a day at the beach because it emits mostly UVA rays and a small percentage of UVB, the more dangerous of the two.

"The International Smart Tan Network" and the "Indoor Tanning Association" say that developing what they call a 'base tan' through the use of indoor tanning machines guards against sunburn from overexposure to harsh sun at the beach.

Doctors disagree with the tanning industry, saying that any exposure to ultraviolet rays is dangerous.

"There's actually no such thing as a safe tan," said dermatologist Dr. Barney Kenet. "The darkening of your skin is an indication that there's damage going on from ultraviolet radiation.

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services added the ultraviolet light of these tanning machines to their list of known carcinogens.

A study conducted at Baylor University in Texas found that those who frequently use indoor tanning machines are four times more likely than others to develop skin cancer.

And a recent study at the University of Lund in Sweden concluded that women between the ages of 18 and 35 who expose themselves to the ultraviolet light of indoor tanning parlors more than 10 times a year are seven times more likely to develop skin cancer.

The Federal Trade Commission requires tanning salon operators to insist that customers wear protective goggles and in 29 states, salons are required to have customers sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of exposure to UV light.

But dermatologists say that these safeguards are not enough.

"UVA is known to cause skin cancer later in life, especially in young people who use tanning beds," Kenet said. "It also causes aging, which is brown spots, wrinkles, and discoloration of the skin," he said.

Some customers who frequent tanning salons admit they're fully aware of the health risks, but say they'd rather look bronze today, and deal with the consequences tomorrow.

College student Lisa Slater says she'll worry about the price she may have to pay for being tan, beautiful and young when she's older.

"I know that's an ignorant mentality, but it seems so far away and it seems like oh yeah, that happens to them and not to me."

Meanwhile, skin cancer isn't always an easy to fix out-patient procedure as many assume it is. Skin cancer is expected to claim nearly 10,000 lives this year.

Doctors say the only safe tan doesn't come from the sun or from the booth, it comes in a bottle. Tanning lotions, which have improved in the years since they were first introduced, are safe to use year-round and can last almost as long as traditional tanning, without the side effects.