What ever happened to beauty being skin deep? With artificial tanning, it can be.
Many GW students tan their wintery skin at Casa del Sol, a tanning salon at 3210 Grace St., behind Georgetown Park Mall. At the salon, student packages run five tans for $30. Regular clients normally tan two to three times a week, said sales representative and GW alumnus Ashley Berlin.
Sophomore Jane Black said she tans at Casa del Sol about once every two weeks but wishes she could go more often.
“(Tanning) definitely gives me a higher self-confidence than being pale and washed out, because I have pretty light skin,” Black said.
Although a deep tan may look healthy and is easy on the eyes, persistent tanning sessions can have detrimental long-term effects.
“A tan is a reaction to injury of the skin,” said Dr. Bertha Linn, GW Director of Dermatological Surgery. “When the skin gets exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light, it damages the skin and makes more pigment.”
Tanning beds, once thought to be a safe alternative to tanning in the sun, may not be the best solution. A study published in the February 2002 issue of the Journal of National Cancer Institute reports that people who use tanning devices are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to develop non-melanoma skin cancers.
Natural sunlight and tanning beds emit ultraviolet radiation that can speed aging and wrinkling. Two types of ultraviolet light enter the Earth’s atmosphere: UVA and UVB.
“UVA tends to penetrate deeper into the skin, therefore not causing immediate burn. But it is still harmful to the skin,” Linn said, “UVB doesn’t go as deep, therefore causing surface skin damage also known as sunburn.”
Berlin said most tanning beds at Casa del Sol use UVB rays, and the popular Orbit tanning bed uses UVB and the more dangerous UVA.
“Orbits are most closely related to natural sunlight, and they are the most popular beds because customers tend not to burn,” Berlin said. “But they are three times as strong as regular beds.” The Orbit beds also have bulbs the target the face.
A May 2001 study in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology looks at skin on a microscopic level after exposure to mainly UVA rays and some UVB rays from a tanning bed. The study found that tanning beds cause more molecular alterations in the skin that indicate a higher probability of skin cancer.
Sophomore Megan Robertson used to work at a tanning salon in Buffalo, N.Y. She said she does not tan regularly but likes to go before spending time in the sun. Robertson tanned before winter break and said she is going to go before her Spring Break vacation in Florida.
“The only time I think it is beneficial to go to a tanning salon is before you go on vacation, because you build up a resistance to the sun and you have less of a chance to get a burn on vacation,” Robertson said.
But experts do not recommend this method.
Linn said building a resistance by going to a tanning salon is a common misconception.
“A burn is severe, acute damage to the skin from a short-term exposure,” she said. “A tan is not as severe and immediate reaction as a burn. When tanning they’re not building a resistance, they’re damaging their skin more by getting tan. It’s not something we recommend.”
While some students were embarrassed to talk about their tanning experiences, junior Jean Paul Polo felt differently.
“I spent my life in Puerto Rico where the average temperature is 85 degrees,” Polo said. “I went tanning on the beach everyday. When my skin gets too white in the winter, I get depressed; and when I’m tan I have more energy. It’s a risk like everything else in life. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve just gone about five times a semester.”
Junior Abbi Look said tanning is a waste of time and money altogether.
“I think artificial tanning is completely unnecessary. I say if you want skin like an old woman when you’re only 30, go for it,” Look said. “But in the middle of winter and you’re tan and you didn’t just go to the Bahamas, who do you think you’re fooling?”
Some students, like sophomore Rebecca Friedman, have changed their mind about tanning after exposures to the bed’s ultraviolet lights.
“I have gone tanning several times, but I started seeing news reports on the results of tanning at an early age and decided to stop going,” Friedman said. “I don’t want to get skin cancer or anything.”