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Children’s Health: Teens and Tans: A Future Health Problem?

Friday, April 28, 2006 at 7:32 AM

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The American Academy of Dermatology warns that there is a growing epidemic of skin cancer in the United States and teenagers are particularly at risk. That's because of their fixation on being tan. As part of our coverage of children's health, ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports.

Sundaez Tanning Salon in Cleveland Heights is an oasis for a cloudy day. Blue striped walls and 1950s beach photos conjure a world where the sun never sets. It’s an enchanting place, as if a boardwalk and miles of sand are just outside the door. Madeline Daprile first tanned here she was 16.

Madeline Daprile: I think I had… like… homecoming or something.

Now a year later, Daprile says she tans about two to three times a week. Although she lives in northern climate, her blonde hair and bronze skin make her seem right out of southern California. She says she’s not alone in her obsession with the sun-kissed look.

Madeline Daprile: Especially now when it gets warmer, I would bet about 75% of the girls at my school tan. I think it’s a reaction from the media if you think about it. If you look at like, like, Paris Hilton and all the Victoria’s Secret models, they’re all really tan.

Almost in the same breath, Daprile admits her healthy glow could prove dangerous.

Madeline Daprile: Well, because, skin cancer kinda runs in my family and I know the risks, like, involved and how bad tanning is for you, but I think if you do it on, like, a moderate scale, it’s okay.

The American Cancer Society would disagree with Daprile. It says the more ultraviolet light skin is exposed to, the greater the cancer risk. Dr. Jon Meine is a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. And he says this threat isn’t just for people over 50 anymore.

Jon Meine: I think we’re seeing in these younger people their getting high enough cumulative exposure at a young age because of extra exposure to ultra violet light. So if someone’s going tanning, they’re just going to be building up their cumulative exposure when normally they wouldn’t.

While Melanoma is the most deadly, it counts for only 5% of all skin cancer cases. Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas are more prevalent and highly treatable. But their numbers are on the rise. A recent study by the Mayo Health Clinic shows since 1976, these cancers have increased up to four-fold for people under 40. Plus, more tumors are showing up in areas not exposed to constant sun, like the torso. The Mayo study suspects habitual indoor tanning may be to blame.

Dr. Meine agrees. He says ultra violet light is hazardous no matter what the origin, but tanning bulbs are even more so.

Jon Meine: Minute for minute… you measure the time tanning beds have a higher intensity of ultra violet exposure.

A higher intensity leads to higher risk, plus a greater chance for burns. Doctors warn if skin is severely burned more than five times early in life, the skin cancer risk is doubled.

But tanning aficionados, like Sundaez Owner Mike Krisel, argue tanning indoors gives people an element of control.

Mike Krisel: When you’re tanning - whether your doing it indoors or outdoors - you’re damaging your skin. When you do it indoors it’s controlled. The FDA won’t let me tell you its any safer, but we know what we’re doing in here.

Krisel says a tanning salon’s equipment reflects its philosophy on health safety. He says superior tanning beds have maximum exposure limits and separate controls to minimize UV exposure to the face.

To protect minors, 19 states have put restrictions on teens using tanning beds. Some states bar teens from using them all together. Others, including Ohio, simply require parents be present to sign release forms and purchase tanning packages. Madeline Daprile’s mother did this for her. While Krisel respects the law, he argues the sun will still shine on kids regardless.

Mike Krisel: Their kids play sports, they go to the pool in the summer, they swim in the lake… when you’re indoors, I guess parents should be able to govern weather or not their tanning. I’m not saying as owners were happy about that.

In the past 6 years, another option has emerged that could satisfy dermatologists, weary parents, and the tanning industry - a spray-on tan.

Mike Krisel: In this system you have 36 nasals, and its going to spray you from your feet all the way to your head.

Krisel’s Magic Tan system is manufactured nearby in Solon, Ohio. From the outside, it resembles a sound-proof booth.

Mike Krisel: Once the nasals fire at the top, it gives you nine seconds to turn to your next position. Most models only spray you front and back - our model sprays you four times. It’s gonna get your front, your back, your side and your other side.

Clients are advised hold their breath during the spraying. That’s because while the pigment in the spray is FDA approved, it’s effect on the lungs when inhaled hasn’t been studied. Dermatologist Dr. Meine says he still prefers this and other sunless tanning options to over exposure to ultra violet light that comes from tanning bulbs or the sun.

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and the degrees of risk people are willing to take. Dr. Meine hopes self preservation will eventually prevail over vanity.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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