The cost of golden skin: UGA students discuss tanning options for spring break

Some University of Georgia students prepare for spring break by frequenting tanning beds. Others choose to use alternative methods due to the risk of skin cancer.

Across the country, students are gearing up for spring break season. While some are grabbing towels and laying out in the sun at the beach, others are hitting the tanning beds.

University of Georgia students are no different, some turning to tanning bed services in Athens or services provided by their apartment or condominium complexes.

The majority of these housing complexes are available solely to students, making the target demographic for advertising their amenities between the ages of 18-22, which are considered key years for skin safety and protection, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Lindsey Armstrong, a sophomore public affairs major from Gwinnett, said she uses the tanning beds every three weeks at her apartment complex, Whistlebury Walk.

Graphic by Sarah Carpenter

“Spray tans have always seemed really fake and end up getting splotchy after a few days, which really bothers me,” Armstrong said.

First exposure to indoor tanning before 35 years old has been associated with 75 percent increased risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to the same journal.

“The skin cancer risk doesn’t really bother me because I put on the same SPF [sunscreen] I would use while laying out in the sun. I feel like it’s not much different than me laying by the pool for a day,” Armstrong said.

Despite correlations between indoor tanning and skin cancer, Athens student apartment complexes such as The Mark, Whistlebury Properties and The Connection continue to market tanning bed services to potential renters.

Athens student housing communities declined to comment about their tanning bed services.

“The strong association with skin cancer bothers me a little, however obviously not enough.”

The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the American Medical Association recommend legislation to ban minors under age 18 from indoor tanning.

“These are high powered bulbs that are very close to the skin and emit much higher UVA than the sun,” Athens dermatologist Dr. Karen Maffei said. “The DNA in each of your cells is getting hit by this radiation, therefore damaging it. The skin cancers will start occurring from this. It is only a matter of time.”

Cam Rogers, a sophomore journalism and political science major, said her father was a tanning bed user.

“My dad had melanoma when I was really young, but I remember being in the hospital with him after they removed the melanoma out of his shoulder. He now has a big scar across his shoulder from the procedure, which serves as a pretty good reminder of what happened,” Rogers said.

In addition to increased risk of obtaining melanoma, indoor tanning can cause premature skin aging, changes in skin texture and an increase in the risk of potentially blinding eye diseases, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Remembering what he went through is definitely enough to scare me out of them for life, and I don’t support them at all,” Rogers said.

Despite the risk, some students still choose indoor tanning.

“The strong association with skin cancer bothers me a little, however obviously not enough,” said senior Olivia Schmitt.

Schmitt is a tanning-bed regular at Sunshine Tan in Athens and a former tanning salon worker.

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the frequency of indoor tanning among U.S. adults has decreased. In 2015, an estimated 7.8 million adults engaged in indoor tanning, down from 11.7 million in 2010.

Increased prevention efforts headed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Surgeon General might explain this decline.

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