When she was in her 20s, Tracy Callahan was surrounded by the horrors of cancer as a nurse on a pediatric cancer ward. But on her days off, Callahan would go to the tanning salon, an unlimited package in hand.
“It’s like a gym membership. I felt like, ‘I’ve got to use it,’” recalled Callahan, who is now 44 and has had 10 surgeries for melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
The Lure of Tanning Beds
According to new research from the Colorado School of Public Health, those all-you-can-tan plans, discounts, and free sessions are common strategies designed to lure teens and young adults into tanning beds. The study found that 35% of secondary tanning facilities, such as gyms and apartment complexes with tanning beds, offered free tanning. In salons, the price was as low as $1.50 a session with an unlimited plan.
“If you remove the cost barrier, there’s nothing stopping these young people,” said Nancy Asdigian, lead author and a Colorado School of Public Health research associate. Added Lori Crane, a professor and the study’s senior author: “It’s the industry tricking them into this really unhealthy behavior.”
The Dangers of Tanning Beds
According to numbers cited by the American Academy of Dermatology, 17% of teens and 59% of college students have spent time in a tanning bed despite studies that show the dangers of tanning beds, such as elevating a person’s skin cancer risk. Evaluating the effectiveness of policies that restrict indoor tanning pricing and advertising should be a next step, the Colorado researchers recommended.
But until that happens, parents also can play a role in discouraging teens and young adults from tanning by not doing it themselves. And they should teach their kids to appreciate the beauty of the skin they were born with.
Today, Callahan is raising awareness about skin cancer and the dangers of indoor tanning through her nonprofit Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation. “I speak to a lot of nursing students,” she said, “and I can see by the way they are shrinking in their seats … that they are still using tanning beds, looking for that ‘healthy glow’ that we obviously know is not healthy.” We can’t assume it’s obvious to everyone, though. It’s important that parents share this information with their teens.