Teen’s Love of Illegal Tanning Booths Defies Risks

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DALLAS (WOMENSENEWS)– Teens are finding their way around laws in 12 states that make it illegal for anyone under 18 to use indoor tanning facilities. With or without their parents’ knowledge some teens are walking into salons and exposing themselves to ultraviolet radiation that can increase their risk of the skin cancer melanoma by 20 percent in just one visit, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The increased reports on these dangers have called for the World Health Organization to classify indoor tanning as “carcinogenic to humans.” The Federal Drug Administration has required tanning machines to list specific warning for minors, but that doesn’t mean all salons are doing their part to keep teens out.

Micki Hirschhorn, 17, visits Glow tanning salon near her home in Argyle, Texas, three to five times a week. In the two years she’s been going, she said she’s never been asked for identification, but does admit to putting on extra make-up to look older.

A manager of Glow said she wasn’t aware of minors using the facility and expressed uneasiness that it could happen. “I feel like the tanning industry isn’t regulated enough,” she said in a phone interview.

Salons that break the law risk losing their license or paying fines upwards to $25,000. Forty-three states impose some kind of age-based restriction.

Hirschhorn still tans despite the risk because indoor tanning gives her the “confidence to wear a bathing suit at the lake or wear a short dress,” she told Teen Voices.

Mood Boost

Besides her interest in darkening her skin, Hirschhorn goes to the salon to relax. “Lying in the booth is beyond calming,” said the high school senior. “You just lie in the flowing LED lights, close your eyes and drift asleep for 12 minutes. I would go after school so I could unwind from a seven-hour day of stress and work.”

The UV rays from indoor tanning do cause the release of endorphins in the body, Matthew Reynolds, a spokesperson for the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email interview. This release explains why tanners often enjoy a sense of relaxation or a mood boost while indoor tanning, which creates a future incentive to tan.

But there’s a big health risk for all users. And since researchers have found that adolescent exposure to tanning booths increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer at younger ages, they are trying to discourage teenage use.

People who bed tan before they are 35 years old increase their chances of getting melanoma by 75 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning cases, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. Cases in teens often go undetected because there are no set guidelines for examinations for minors, even though 2.3 million teens, mostly female, visit a tanning salon every year.

While the number of teens going to tanning salons is decreasing, according to research published in JAMA Dermatology “about 20 percent of females engaged in indoor tanning at least once during 2013 and about 10 percent of girls frequently engaged in the practice by using an indoor tanning device 10 or more times during the year.”

Good News

The good news is that when laws restricting minors’ use of tanning salons are in place, teens are 30 percent less likely to use indoor beds, the CDC reports. New Hampshire’s ban on minors tanning goes into effect on Oct. 1, making it the 13th state in the country with such laws.

Hirschhorn, however, is so far undeterred.

“It’s weird to say that something that could possibly harm me gives me confidence but it’s the truth,” Hirschhorn said. “The health risks are there of course, and I’m not blind to it. I check my moles and freckles often to make sure nothing looks abnormal. But I’ve spent my life outside in the sun so I take the risk.”

However, this isn’t a risk all teens are willing to take. Heather Lindemann, a high school senior in Dallas, began tanning at 15, but very recently decided to stop.

She would bed tan whenever she visited relatives in Louisiana, which at the time allowed minors to tan as long as they had parental consent, which she had, Lindemann told Teen Voices in a phone interview.

But once she hit 16, she wanted to tan more frequently so she began lying about her age to get around the law at home. Like Hirschhorn, her identification was never checked.

Lindemann’s parents knew what she was doing and allowed it. But that didn’t mean the teen really understood the risks.

After developing a 15-time a month habit for two years, Lindemann’s mother, at the beginning of this summer, prodded her to check the health research.

“It’s not so much of if I get skin cancer from bed tanning as it is when,” Lindemann said. “Now I try and protect my skin so I don’t further the damage I have already done. I don’t think being tan is worth it.”

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