Ask any teenager about their idea of beauty and they’re likely to mention having a good tan. Unfortunately, the act of tanning can come with an extremely high price to pay — even death in some cases. While natural sun tanning does have its problems, the more immediate danger is found at local salons with tanning beds.
Despite tanning industry claims of safety, the truth is that these machines are doing much more harm than good, especially among female teenagers. Once accepted as an easy way to go from pale to bronze in only a few quick visits, the tanning salon industry has come under attack from many health organizations.
As a result, some states, such as California and Illinois, have restricted use by minors. Even entire countries like Australia and Brazil have taken a stand against the devices, initiating an outright ban. Still, the desire of quick and easy tans is tempting and the U.S. tanning bed industry is going strong.
Currently, it is estimated that approximately one-third of all high school girls have used a tanning bed at least once and studies have concluded that tanning before the age of 35 represents a 59% higher chance of developing melanoma in later life.
This means that teenagers, especially girls, are one of the highest-risk groups for indoor tanning dangers. Melanoma is a particularly fierce form of skin cancer, killing one person per hour in the United States. What is the solution for dealing with this emerging epidemic?
For a parent, the first line of defense should be education. Sitting down to discuss sun safety with teenagers is an absolute must. Here are a few talking points that should be covered:
- Never use tanning beds; any short-term gains are far outweighed by the potential problems, including cancer and early signs of aging.
- Avoid tan accelerating lotions or sprays commonly sold by tanning salons. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- When outdoors, choose a broad spectrum sunscreen and limit exposure to direct sunlight.
- If you notice a mole that is changing, growing or irregular, get it checked out immediately. Melanoma is a rare disease, but it is life-threatening.
We all know that talking to teenagers can sometimes feel similar to talking to a brick wall. Part of the beauty of youth is a feeling of invincibility and the concept of skin cancer can seem to be a million years away. In addition to trying to educate your teenage children about the dangers of tanning, another strategy that could be more effective is to have them read the experiences of their peers.
There are plenty of teens that have written candidly about their experiences. Providing the links to some of these teen tanning stories may help to give a real-world context to the serious issues of using tanning beds.
Another strategy is to offer safer alternatives to tanning beds, such as a spray tan for special occasions or a fashionable cover-up for the beach.
As the use of tanning beds among teens continues to climb, more awareness about the present dangers is certainly needed. By taking the time to talk openly and honestly with your children, you may be able to help them avoid the very serious problems of skin cancer and melanoma.
More information about these dangers can be found at the Center for Disease Control website.
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