The social desirability of the tan is a modern phenomenon. The concept of having a tan without going outdoors became more and more appealing. People enjoy having a tan for innumerable reasons. Aside from cosmetic reasons of just having a good tan, people actually enjoy the therapeutic effects of tanning.
It was actually the Europeans who started tanning indoors with sunlamps. The practice of harnessing ultraviolet light as a therapeutic exercise spread in Europe, particularly in sun-deprived countries, in the 1970s. This was long before the first indoor tanning facility was established in the United Sates in the late 1970s.
Since then, the professional indoor tanning industry in the US has grown substantially in the past 30 years. According to industry estimates, it has grown into a $5 billion industry with 28 million Americans tanning indoors annually at about 25,000 tanning salons around the country.
The most popular device used in tanning salons is a clamshell-like tanning bed. The customer lies down on a Plexiglas surface as lights from above and below reach the body. However, indoor tanning units are alleged to have safety risks. While this is so, people – young women in particular - still patronize tanning salons. The development of photo aging and skin cancer will take years to become apparent in these young tanners, while the perceived social value of a tan is immediately apparent.
Tanning occurs when the skin produces additional pigment (coloring) to protect itself against ultraviolet rays. Overexposure to these rays can cause eye injury; premature wrinkling of the skin, light induced skin rashes, and can increase the chances of developing skin cancer. Even the indoor tanning industry admits ultraviolet radiation can cause skin cancer provided that it produces an actual burn.
However, industry spokespeople point out that the pattern of sun exposure that causes skin cancer, in particular melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, is not consistent with indoor tanning practices. For a given amount of UV light, the industry argues there is a difference between receiving the energy in many small doses that lead to a tan versus a few big doses that produce a burn.
So protect yourself from the possible risks of skin cancer. Take note of the following precautions:
- Limit your exposure to avoid sunburn. Always ask for information and further assistance concerning exposure limits for your age and skin type.
- Use goggles to protect your eyes. Make sure the goggles fit snugly and check if the salon sterilizes the goggles to prevent the spread of eye infectious
Consider your medical history. Avoid tanning devices when you are undergoing treatment for lupus or diabetes. You might also want to inform the salon if you are taking antihistamines, tranquilizers or birth control pills.