A Tax on Your Tan: Don't Make Your Skin Pay the Price

A DIY recipe can save your summer look without the risk of skin cancer

Thinking of hitting the tanning salon to get ready for that summer trip to the beach? You better think twice. National and international government agencies are cracking down on tanning bed use in the hope that it will reduce the more than 1 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed every year.

Though tanning beds might seem like a safe alternative to basking in the sun for hours, both options pose the same risks, and often have the same negative effects. Sunlight and tanning bed bulbs both emit ultraviolet (UV) light, a form of radiation that sunscreens protect your skin from. UV rays activate p53, a protein in your body capable of repairing damage to genes from UV exposure. However, the activation of p53 triggers an unfortunate side effect: It produces a hormone that leads to darkening of the skin cells or — as you more commonly know it — a tan.

Thus, when you tan, your body automatically tries to recover from it. However, over-tanning darkens the skin while potentially causing damage that the p53 can’t counteract. This leads to the beginning and advancement of skin cancer.

“The very pathway for tanning is directly, biochemically linked to the same pathway of carcinogenesis,” says Dr. David Fisher of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Skin Cancer Foundation in an article from The Skin Cancer Foundation website. That’s why tanning beds and skin cancer are inextricably linked.

Governments get on board

The World Health Organization announced last summer that they consider tanning beds “definitive cancer-causers.” The WHO reversed its former stance on tanning equipment (“probable cancer-causers”) after a recent study showed that regular tanning bed use in one’s teens and 20s results in a 75 percent higher chance of contracting melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) later in life.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also considering modifying its position on tanning salon mainstays. The FDA has consistently listed tanning beds as “Class I devices,” or medical devices whose use is unlikely to have adverse consequences. This currently puts tanning beds in the same category as bandages in terms of the potential for harm.

However, the agency has recently begun reconsidering this classification, with an eye on a number of measures — including more prominent, comprehensive warning labels on tanning beds; requiring parental consent for minors’ indoor tanning, or banning it outright for the age group; and FDA approval of indoor tanning products — to stem the tide of indoor tanning, especially among the under-18 crowd.

Perhaps the biggest discouraging factor for tanning bed fans in the U.S. is an upcoming 10 percent “tanning bed tax” on indoor tanning, which passed into law as part of this year’s legislation overhauling healthcare. Starting July 1, each instance of indoor tanning will be subject to the new tax. Like the “sin” taxes levied on alcohol and cigarettes, which were imposed to reduce consumption of potentially dangerous substances, opponents of tanning beds hope the new tax will reduce regular attendance at tanning salons.

Taxing tanning bed use might not only save Americans money spent on fighting skin cancer but also combat a new medical phenomenon: tanning dependence. A recent joint report issued by researchers from New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Albany confirms that most regular indoor tanners become addicted to the activity, with 90 percent of respondents even reporting symptoms — such as anxiety and depression — exemplified by abusers of alcohol and other substances.

A recipe for summer-ready skin

If the new cost, regulation and risk of using tanning beds scare you away from indoor tanning, you can still get your bronzed, beach look without becoming a skin cancer statistic. Here’s a simple and sun-free, DIY recipe for giving your skin a truly healthy glow:

What you will need:

  • Four black teabags

  • Two cups of water

  • A sponge or spray-bottle

  • Optional: Body lotion and pure cocoa powder

What to do:

  • Boil the water. Once it is bubbling, steep the teabags for 10-15 minutes, or however long it takes for the tea to turn dark and cool to the touch.

  • Stand on something you don’t mind getting dirty. Drench the sponge, or fill the spray-bottle, with tea, applying the tea to your body evenly. Let your skin air-dry. If you desire a darker color, wait until skin is dry, then reapply.

  • Dry completely before putting your clothes back on to avoid stains. The “tan” should last for three to four days.

  • For an even darker look, add enough cocoa powder to turn body lotion a desired bronze color and apply it to the skin for a golden glow.

Not only is this recipe more natural and much less expensive than a spray-tan, your skin will thank you for avoiding overexposure to radiation. Just remember: Catching rays indoors or outdoors can be harmful or even deadly if you do it too much. Seeing the light on the dangers of tanning should encourage you to find new ways of feeling comfortable in your skin.

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