About 30 million Americans use tanning salons. At least one of every four teenage girls, and nearly one of every two girls aged 18 or 19, has tanned indoors at least three times. Why? According to this month's Archives of Dermatology, "[ultraviolet] radiation, a classified carcinogen, is commonly and specifically marketed to adolescents through high school newspaper advertising" by salons. Why do kids keep coming back? A study in the current Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggests "frequent tanning is driven by an opioid-dependent mechanism." In other words, it's a physical addiction. It even has a street name: tanorexia. Harmful, addictive, marketed to kids—that's the three-count indictment that brought down tobacco and soft drinks.
Like the tobacco companies, the salons live in a bubble of denial that cries out for oversight. Last year, in a survey by Consumer Reports, one of every three salons denied that tanning could cause skin cancer or would age a client's skin. Their lobbying arm, the Indoor Tanning Association, asserts that "your body is designed to repair any damage to the skin caused by ultraviolet light exposure"—as though nobody ever died of melanoma—and hilariously suggests that exposing adolescents to the summer sun for two or three more hours per day would eliminate most cases of multiple sclerosis.
May 15, 2006
When is pale going to become fashionable again?
William Saletan says the health police are going after tanning salons.