Image courtesy: @mdub686 (Original source found here)

Image courtesy: Melissa Walling (Original source found here)

It’s prom season and we all know it’s the season where teens feel pressure (and sometimes giddy delight) to prepare to look entirely fabulous for the night. Full of pressure or full of glee, this is without a doubt the time of year when teens I see in clinic talk most about tanning.

A 2014 JAMA study found 19% of teens (under the age of 19) have used a tanning bed, with 18% of them stating that they’ve used one in the last year. That’s in every teenagers still feeling that “bronzed is better” and a thing of youthful beauty regardless of the known consequences. We have to do a better job, both as parents and as doctors and health educators, explaining the unnecessary risks teens take on when changing the color of their skin. Recently, a hashtag surfaced on social media encouraging teens to be “#pale4prom.” Thoughtful critics have raised concerns about the racial implications this campaign could ignite, I do feel this campaign can do good for those teens exploring indoor tanning. We all want to feel beautiful in skin that is protected from the sun. In my mind, the easiest word to market the idea of skin without sun is pale. I’ve urged teens to enjoy the beauty of pale skin (sometimes unsuccessfully, in clinic and in my personal life) and hope the shift from bronze to pale is a trend that continues to grow as years unfold. There’s no question we can do a better job valuing what beautiful skin really is. 5 reasons why:

No More Tanning For Prom

  • Tanning Is Common, Sometimes Frequent: The 2014 JAMA study found 19.3% of adolescents (< 19 years of age) in Western countries have used a tanning bed while 18% (nearly 1 in 5) of adolescents have used a tanning bed within the last year. Tanning often isn’t a one time event. Every tanning session damages skin and elevates risk.
  • Wrinkles: Studies show UV radiation (that comes from tanning beds or natural sunlight) prematurely ages the skin and decreases the skin’s immune response. The more a teen tans, the more wrinkly they’ll get and the more moles they’ll develop. A tanning bed delivers UV radiation that is about 10-15 times more potent than the sun.

If vanity is what draws young adults to tanning beds it might also be what drives them away. 

  • Skin Cancer: The risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, increases by 75% when use of tanning devices starts before age 35. This kind of data has propelled many states, like Washington and California, to ban indoor tanning for minors.
  • Why Prom Even Matters. Research shows that even one trip to the tanning bed affects our risk of developing skin cancer. Just one indoor tanning session increases the chance of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk by about 2%. Read Brittany Cicala’s story with tanning, beauty pageants, and her subsequent health challenges. Studies show that UV radiation (that can come from tanning beds) prematurely ages the skin and decrease the skin’s immune response. The more a teen tans (in tanning bed or in the sun) the more wrinkly they’ll get, and the more moles they’ll develop. A tanning bed delivers UV radiation that is about 10-15 times more potent than the sun.
  • #Pale4Prom: When it comes to prom, I’m hopeful this new campaign might help teens opt out of indoor tanning. If teens want to change the color of their skin, we need to support them in getting a spray tan for the big night. The activist in me is still hoping we can gradually redefine the beauty that resides in our natural skin tone so spraying our skin fades away from fashion, too. #Pale4prom has promise, yes?