While the warm weather may be bringing more students outside to be under the sun, new research suggests getting a tan is more of an addiction than a summer pastime.
Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, recently released a study that shows the growing trend of indoor tanning may be the result of ultraviolet radiation stimulation of the “rewards center” of the brain. According to the study, an increase in mood enhancements, relaxation and physical satisfactions brought about by tanning encourage excessive exposure to UV rays despite the health risks.
“Tanning indoors in a tanning booth, you’re primarily getting UVA light, and outside it’s broad spectrum UVA/UVB,” Dr. Kimberly Silvers, a dermatologist at Ithaca Dermatology, PLLC, said. “They’re both dangerous, and the American Academy of Dermatology recommends that there’s no such thing as a healthy tan no matter if you’re indoors or outdoors.”
UVA light, the primary tanning ray, penetrates the skin deeper than UVB light, which is responsible for reddening of the skin and sunburn, and causes cumulative damage over time, According to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Tanning booths emit UVA rays that are 12 times stronger than the rays emitted by the sun, increasing the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 2.5 times, according to a 2002 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Tanning has become a habit for freshmen Amanda Przychodny and Malorie Righi. Przychodny said she began tanning during her freshman year of high school when her cousin encouraged her to go.
“I have an iron deficiency, so I tend to be very white, and I’m partially anemic so the tanning gives me nice color,” Przychodny said while holding up her arm to display her tanned skin. “I feel better about myself when I do.”
Dennis T. Regan, associate professor of the Department of Psychology, who studies social aspects of individuals at Cornell University, said trends begin with the idea of imitation.
“You have sort of an arms race, and everybody has to get a tan because if you don’t have a tan, you look all pasty and white and unattractive — especially in the winter when these other people are looking like they’ve just come back from South America,” he said.
Regan said young people are attracted to being tan, and the risks are so distant in the future that they only consider the benefits.
“There’s a mating market for young adults,” he said. “You don’t find older people in tanning salons very much, and the reason for that is that they’re not as concerned with meeting other guys or women. Young people are very interested in that.”
Despite the possible consequences, Righi and Przychodny are among the 30 million Americans who visit tanning salons annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The experience is still new for Righi, who began tanning a few months ago with a close friend.
“I fall asleep,” Righi said. “So I take 15-minute naps and it’s very relaxing; it’s warm, which is nice when you’re cold.”
Przychodny said she doesn’t like having to go without tanning. She said she’s aware that too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation has fatal consequences. But for her, tanning is worth it.
“You can end up getting cancer,” she said. “You can die from it, sun poisoning — it does really bad things to your skin. I know it’s not safe, and it’s not healthy, but I look at life as you only have one shot.”