It’s no secret that most Americans are obsessed with physical beauty and perfection.

     With the growing popularity of MTV’s Jersey Shore, college students are sent a very clear message: The tanner you are the better. It’s no wonder that the use of tanning beds is so common among young women and, yes, young men use them too. Reuters News Service reported last year that more than one in three American women between the ages of 18-24 said they tan indoors. Amazingly, over the past couple of years the number of people using tanning beds has actually become higher than the number of people who smoke cigarettes.

     “Tanning season starts at the end of this month and we will be super busy until the beginning of summer. After that most people switch to outdoor tanning,” said Ashley Pressnel, the manager of a local Sun City Tan.

     When someone says they are going tanning, most people assume that they are going to lie in a tanning bed for 10-20 minutes and come out a little darker. While this is true, in medical terms “tanning” is the body’s reaction to ultraviolet radiation. The skin produces more pigment melanin to protect itself. It is the body’s natural defense against harmful UV rays. Ultraviolet radiation is actually a known human carcinogen. It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a group one carcinogen; the same group tobacco smoking was placed in.

     “A very high percentage of my patients are young women ages 16-29 who tan,” said Dr. Jennifer Holman, a dermatologist with the Dermatology Associates of Tyler. “I have a smaller percentage of men but they are also being affected by the popularity of tanning in the U.S.”

     The tanning industry targets the college-age demographic. That’s the generation most easily influenced by what is portrayed in the media, which currently glorifies having a sexy, glowing tan. Most tanning salons, realizing their popularity with college students, even offer student discounts. There is what may be the number one reason for getting a tan while getting an education: the infamous week of Spring Break. It’s the week everyone hits the beach with their friends. The week that they must look hotter than they have ever looked before.

     Everyone has heard of the dangers that are associated with “fake baking.” Of course, these are all very real dangers that any person considering tanning should be aware of. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, tanning greatly increases a person’s odds of developing melanoma which is the most deadly form of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatologists has even gone so far as to recommend a ban on the use of tanning beds for anyone under 18 unless a doctor consents to it.

     “I would recommend the controlled environment of indoor tanning over outdoor tanning. Tanning salon employees receive proper training. They know how to adjust to the individual clients,” Pressnel said.

     Everyone has heard of the benefits of artificial sunlight. Many enthusiasts claim that tanning helps the body produce of Vitamin D. Another well-known excuse for tanners to renew their membership every month is that it helps them to relax and clear their minds.

     Dr. Holman is quick to point out that “there are no real known benefits. “It’s true that it may help the production of Vitamin D in the body but most people on a healthy diet should have no problem concerning Vitamin D. Also, the same chemicals produced in the body while tanning are the same ones produced while exercising. If you want to clear your head, go for a jog instead of going to tan.”

     Regardless of what professionals have to say, young people also have opinions on this issue.

     “Tans look nice, especially on girls, but I don’t think people should do it because of the serious risks involved. They should just tan outside in the sun, not in a tanning bed,” said Brent Taylor, a student at Tyler Junior College.

     Choosing to tan is a personal choice. It is important to know the potential health risks and benefits that are involved before making that decision.

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