Tanning and its Related Health Risks
Rachel Pukall

Despite health risks, the desire to maintain a glowing tan is increasing as more and more people use artificial tanning sun beds.

Ashlee Slagoski, a freshman majoring in accounting and business administration, is one of many students who artificially tan.

“Tanning relaxes me and relieves stress, but I do believe there are health risks associated with excessive amounts of tanning,” Slagoski said.

Jim Zach, the Medical Director at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, finds it interesting that studies show tanning has the ability to make an individual feel good.

“Troublesome to the prevention of complications are studies that find many people feel better when they use tanning beds. UV and sunlight do have beneficial effects for people, but they need to be in moderation,” Zach said.

Among the many students who artificially tan, a student on campus who wishes to remain anonymous is personally familiar with the risks.

“I was told by a family doctor that I had to get my skin looked at in December. In January, I had an appointment with a dermatologist, and while there, they found two sites that were abnormal or cancerous and had to be removed. When I got my test results back, one of the sites was benign, but the other came back as the pre-stages of melanoma,” she said.

One site was on her back and the other over her left rib cage. Her doctor was able to remove all of the tissue needed so that a second appointment was not required when she got her test results back.

“I am very grateful that she did this because otherwise a second appointment would have been needed, and the experience would have been worse than what it was. Now the cancerous tissue is gone,” she said.

The student does not go tanning anymore. She says that she will never step into a tanning salon again, and she’s okay with that.

“I used to go tanning about three to four times a week. I was aware that there were health risks to tanning, but because I hadn’t heard of any of my friends experiencing any negative effects, I guess I just thought that I was invincible to the health risks. After what has happened, I now believe that there are health risks to tanning,” she said.

She liked to go tanning for the same reasons as everyone else. It was a way to relieve stress and made her feel good.

“I thought I looked good with a little color, but my advice is—don’t do it,” she said.

Her doctor had her entire family tested, and she now has to go in every couple years for checkups.

“I am blessed and thankful that it was only the pre-stages and that it hadn’t gotten to the point of what it could have been. It is still uncomfortable, knowing that I potentially could have had a very serious, non-curable cancer had I not gone to the doctor when I did,” she said.

Sue Pederson, a licensed nurse practitioner on campus, doesn’t think that anyone should use tanning beds.

“They are simply a more intense way of receiving harmful UV rays. The potential for skin damage from tanning leading to skin cancer is high,” Pederson said.

There are a few alternatives to sun bed tanning, such as spray tans. Although spray tans may give off harsh chemicals, they don’t emit any UV radiation.

Over the last 34 years, Zach has cared for half a dozen patients in their twenties with early melanoma.

Zach says some sun exposure is valuable for Vitamin D production, but fair-skinned people get enough Vitamin D within twenty to thirty minutes.

“My physician once told me that anyone who is fair-haired, blonde and blue-eyed and has a sunburn before the age of eighteen runs the risk of getting skin cancer 10 times greater than someone else,” Pederson said.

Pederson recommends using sunscreen at all times. If you start to get pink, get out of the sun.

“Anyone who notices a change in a mole should also see their physician, regardless of age,” Pederson said. “It doesn’t hurt to have something checked, but it may hurt to wait.”