Ins and Outs of Tanning

Photo by Tori Anderson

Looking like you just got back from a vacation is one of the most enviable things for young women.

To have that bronzed skin means you take pride in the way you look and some believe it makes us look healthier and feel more confident. Through the media, beauty standards in our modern era convince us that being tan is sexier.

Accordingly, the tanning business is booming.

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that about 30 million Americans use indoor tanning beds each year. On an average day in the United States, more than one million people go to tanning salons with nearly 70 percent of their clients being Caucasian girls and women aged 16 to 29 years. A report done by JAMA Dermatology further shows that 43% of university students in America attest to having used a tanning bed in the past year. For some, the desire to tan outweighs the risk of it.

With fall and winter quickly approaching in State College, it’s inevitable that more people will be tanning. Dreary weather at Penn State invokes dreary emotions, which most students here can agree with. Psychiatrists have begun giving this a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or “winter depression.”

Maddie, a junior at Penn State says she enjoys tanning during the fall and winter because it gives her “a little taste of the sun.”

“Penn State winters seem to last forever and the cold and dreariness makes me feel sluggish and down. I’m someone who loves the sun, and we don’t get a lot of that here in the winter,” she says.

Although tanning does not make her happier as a whole, she likes the color it gives her as well as the warmth that comes from lying under the lights. It’s relaxing.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea. If it makes you happy and you understand the risks that are associated with tanning then go for it! Otherwise, there are plenty of other ways to help seasonal affective disorder like exercise, electric blankets, and by exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible,” she says.

Valley had the opportunity to ask Danielle Goldberg, a nurse practitioner, to shed some light on this disorder:

“Because the most effective treatment is light therapy, many tanning salons will advertise their services. However, tanning salons use ultraviolet radiation. Light therapy works through the eyes and requires visible light, not UV light (invisible light). Using indoor tanning may lead to tanning addiction and can seriously increase a person’s risk of skin cancer, even after one session. Rather than tanning, the recommended treatment for SAD is to sit by a light box for approximately 30 minutes each morning (about 10-25x as bright as ordinary light). Other helpful treatments include adequate sleep, a balanced diet and exercise,” says Goldberg.

All in all, Valley learned that tanning could be considered the wrong treatment for SAD. Even if tanning does improve someone’s mood, the risks far outweigh the benefits.