College Students and Tanning

“You look great. You’re so tan!” Ah...the college years in the 1980’s in Southern California, full of fraternity parties, dinner dates, movies in Westwood, and oneself. Healthy body, healthy glow, healthy bank account, and healthy social agenda, oh... and I went to class at times. I will admit it. I was pretty narcissistic. More than I few times, I glanced in the mirror to see how my hair looked.

1980’s skin care disaster

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking one’s best. Being fit and healthy is great, but those long days laying out on the fraternity roof and skipping classes was a really bad idea on many fronts. I was damaging my skin and my GPA at alarming rates. That was the 1980’s when all I could think about was looking like the guys on LA Law, but has anything changed? What about today?

A new study on current sun protection

I was really hoping that our college-aged folks would be doing a better job of taking care of themselves with regard to skin protection. Recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs was not encouraging. According to a recent study from Oregon State University-Cascades, college-aged millennials continue to tan outside at alarming rates and are dangerously under-informed when it comes to sun safety.1 The study also found that those young people with narcissistic tendencies and low self-esteem are more likely participate in dangerous and addictive tanning practices.1

Emotions versus logic?

The psychological component cannot be overlooked. The research showed that additional information about healthy skin care was ineffective in changing behavior.1 Young people are not making decisions based on rationale and logic (not surprising to many of us who are parents of teens). They are making feelings-based decisions and being tan, beautiful and accepted on that basis is a strong emotional pull.

What is the answer?

So, now what? The answer may not be related to warning young people about the dangers of skin cancer, but rather alarming them about issues related to premature aging. Too much sun exposure does damage skin. There are many notable examples of folks who appear much older as a result of tanning. Will this have an effect? As a parent of a teen and former affirmation-lover myself, I am not sure.

Talk with your kids

The immediate gratification of peer acceptance is very strong and the warning about future wrinkles may not be weighty enough to change dangerous behaviors. All this leads me to my main point, talk with your children about self-esteem at an early age. Talk with them in their teens and in college. I do believe that healthy discussions can have their intended effect. Change may come in stages but as the appeal of peer group applause fades, hopefully wisdom and good skin care practice will win the day.

Your inside matters most

If you are a college student (and I have two), I can honestly say that the earlier you understand and appreciate that your value is not based on your outside appearance the better off you will be. So, as summer winds down for our college-aged friends who went to the pool, the beach, the park, let’s hope that they've engaged in safe skin care practices that will continue into year round, and know that who they are on the inside is really what matters most.

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