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Should you let your teen tan?

We’ve all heard the news reports about tanning booths enough to know that they aren’t a good idea. Many teens are still addicted to the idea that they should be tan, and tanning salons are full of repeat customers.

In many areas now, you must be over 18 years old or have parental permission to do indoor tanning. Should we be letting our teens tan?

Teens and tanning

It’s no wonder that teenagers are obsessed with being tan. Images of the perfectly fit, tan bodies of teen stars surround them on everything from magazine covers to television shows. Whether getting glammed up for prom or simply hitting the local pool with friends, many teens don’t feel like they look good without a visit to the indoor tanning salon. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 33 percent of girls in the 12th grade reported that they used indoor tanning.

Why are so many teens tanning indoors? Tanya Kormeili, M.D., is a board certified dermatologist and clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. In her private practice, she sees many teens who are very focused on tanning. “I think the teens today are under extremely high pressure to ‘look great’. They are bombarded with TV shows that use 30-year-old cosmetically altered actresses to depict teenagers,” she says. “As a teenager you are so worried about how terrible your body is to begin with, and to receive these images of ‘perfection’ from tanned and dolled-up actresses creates further insecurity.”

Is indoor tanning safer?

Unfortunately, there is no safe way to tan, and indoor tanning may be even more dangerous than tanning outdoors. Dr. Debra Jaliman, board certified dermatologist and expert blogger on WebMD, says, “Every single exposure to a tanning bed increases the risk of skin cancer. However, according to several studies, the risk for melanoma is even greater for those under thirty, because their DNA is more susceptible.” When skin tans, it is responding to UV damage by producing greater amounts of pigment. The CDC reports that people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 75 percent greater risk of developing melanoma. Using tanning beds also increases the risk of wrinkles and eye damage.

Check out these 5 warning signs of skin cancer >>

How do we get through to them?

Explaining to your teen how their risk of developing skin cancer increases dramatically when they use indoor tanning beds may not be enough. Dr. Kormeili takes a different approach. “Teens today are worried about being sexy, and I think the heightened awareness of sexuality is a fact that needs to be taken into consideration when addressing them. For example, I tell them that too much sun causes wrinkles and ugly blemishes on their skin, instead of warnings about skin cancer and death! I use their curiosity about makeup and skin products to teach them about the proper use of sunscreen.”

New laws on the horizon

The New York Assembly recently passed a bill that would ban teens under the age of 16 from using tanning beds — parental consent is required for teens ages 16 to 17. The states of California and Vermont recently passed a comprehensive ban on the use of indoor tanning facilities by all minors, regardless of parental consent.

There really is no safe way to tan, and parents need to make their teens aware of the dangers of indoor tanning.

Read about tanning addiction >>

More teen health

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Asthma and your teen
Encouraging teens to eat healthy

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