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With spring coming, Rutgers sees influx in synthetic tanning

Rutgers University has seen a growing trend on its campuses — tan skin, despite the lack of warm weather. Students can be found in increasing numbers at tanning salons. 

To get a fake tan, one must find a salon, gym, or spa that has tanning beds. A customer lays in a tanning bed that emits ultraviolet radiation to produce a cosmetic tan. But academics at Rutgers have found a number of negative health effects associated with this practice. 

School of Arts and Sciences junior Jenny Garcia is one of many female students at the University that enjoys tanning. When she goes regularly, she said she tans twice a week.

“I tan because I feel more confident in myself when I’m tanner,” Garcia said.

Garcia said that besides confidence boosting, she did not believe there were many other benefits to tanning. Tanning might help with reducing acne or psoriasis, she said, but she was not sure if that was true. Garcia does not suffer from these skin conditions, so she understands that tanning does not benefit her much.

Tanning has often been criticized for its potential negative side effects, which is why Garcia said she tries not to make tanning too much of a habit.

Dr. Jerod Stapleton, an assistant professor of medicine at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), has been studying tanning and its effects for several years.

“The biggest negative effect of tanning, the reason I study tanning behavior at the Cancer Institute, is that there is very strong evidence that using tanning beds has been associated with a risk of developing skin cancer,” Stapleton said.

There are three main varieties of skin cancer, but the deadliest of the three is melanoma. Over 1 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year, outnumbering the total number of other cancers combined, according to Melanoma International. Several studies have shown that women who tan, even just once, have increased the risk of developing melanoma.

Women who start tanning at a young age and continue to maintain steady tanning habits have an even larger chance of developing skin cancer, Stapleton said. It is less common for people to tan consistently compared to people who will try tanning a few times, but the health risks begin with just one trip to the tanning salon.

Other negative effects of tanning include premature skin aging, loss of elasticity in the skin and skin wrinkling.

Research involving the effects of tanning does not have a long history in terms of public health issues. Public health concerns, like the health effects of smoking cigarettes, have decades of data, while tanning research gained a foothold just about 10 years ago.

“Tanning beds popped up around the mid-1980s, there was an increase in their popularity about 10 years ago, but its popularity seems to have leveled off over the last few years,” Stapleton said.

Studies over the past decade or so have shown that women, especially younger women and teenagers, are developing melanoma more frequently now than they were 30 or 40 years ago, according to Melanoma International

According to tanning research, there are no benefits of tanning. Some might argue that tanning is healthy because it provides an essential vitamin to the body, Vitamin D, Stapleton said. The intense blast of UV rays from the tanning bed negates the positive effects it could have.

“Scientifically speaking, there are no benefits from indoor tanning beds because the cancer risks are clear,” he said.

Tanning is a public health concern and researchers like Stapleton hope to continue to raise awareness for it through continued research, he said. Over time he said he hopes that the research will help to convince people that tanning is not worth the health risks.

“It’s not hard to convince people why we should worry about smoking, but tanning, although on a lesser level than smoking, is fundamentally the same thing. It’s exposure to an unnecessary carcinogen,” Stapleton said.

Christina Froelich is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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