Say Yes to the Dress and No to the Tan

Spring is here and somewhere out there a prom dress is being fitted, a limousine is being reserved, and a photographer is being handed a deposit. Somewhere between the harried phone calls and the flurry of excited texts, a tanning bed is heating up. The bulbs are coming to life, the tropical scent of tanning accelerator is filling the room, and rays of heat are emanating from behind the acrylic that separates the user from the rows of searing bulbs.

Tanning pale skin for prom

Someone out there, someone you know (maybe it’s you), has decided that the gorgeous dress being measured and tailored to a perfect fit will only look good against tan skin--skin that is golden brown and glowing. That same someone likely signed up for a package deal and will hit the tanning salon several times a week between now and the night of the prom. It is equally likely that she will continue to tan once prom is over--it’s hard to go back to being pale when everyone else is doing it? Right?

Peer pressure to be tan

There is even someone out there who has been talked into trying a tanning bed for the first time because she is especially pale. Her friends convinced her that she won’t do that beautiful dress justice with that stark white skin. Reluctantly, she is beginning the process of tanning knowing she burns easily. She thinks once she gets past the first few visits and the initial burns, she, too, will look good.

Myth: a tan is healthy

The above scenarios could have been set in any decade beginning in the 1980s. It’s the same story every spring. Tanning beds have held a special allure for young girls who wish to have that “fresh from the beach” look for decades. The primary reason prom goers seek the help of tanning beds is the desire to quickly and easily appear attractive, healthy, and radiant. Appearances. It’s all about appearances.

Fact: tanning damages skin

Tanning is unnecessary, unhealthy, and leads to skin damage including skin cancers such as melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell carcinoma. According to the CDC, tan skin is damaged skin. Those of us in our our 30s, 40s, and 50s who have lived through the tanning bed decades and had our fair share of those, “I’m so pale--I need a tan,” moments are now having more than our fair share of knives, painful chemotherapy creams, and scars left from cryotherapy sessions. We aren’t telling prom goers not to tan because it’s an unnecessary expense. We aren’t telling you to stay pale because it’s a new movement. We are telling you that staying out of a tanning bed can save your life--plain and simple.

Is tanning worth the risks?

We have come a long way since those first tanning beds began to call the names of young girls and women seeking a “healthier glow.” There exists an infinite number of fact-based websites all screaming the same thing at us loudly and clearly--tanning leads to skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that ultraviolet (UV) radiation is responsible for 90% of skin cancers along with 90% of the changes associated with premature aging including “wrinkles, leathery skin, and brown spots.” Beginning a tanning routine you may not want to quit later isn’t worth any of those risks, is it?

Sun spots are only the beginning

As I started writing this piece to discourage prom-goers from falling into the trap of believing they need a tan to be accepted, I knew the direction I wanted to take and the tone I wanted to assert. My research, however, led me to two short sentences in two different articles that drive home my point more effectively than any words I could string together.

Let the following two quotes simmer for a minute.

From Tanning Acrylics (suppliers of tanning bed acrylics): “Tanning bed acrylics are essential to the indoor tanning bed process as they must allow 100% of the UV light to pass through…” That’s 100% of the radiation deemed so damaging by the CDC reaching your skin as you lay inside a tanning bed absorbing every beam.

Hold on. Here’s the kicker.

I ran across a piece in Cosmopolitan titled, “Why I Still Use Tanning Beds.” The young woman interviewed in the article, 27 years old at the time, says everything many of you are thinking about your prom tan. Tanning makes you feel better. It’s about being attractive. Being pale equates to being unhealthy. Her list goes on. One of her comments waves a red flag all on its own. “I've only recently started noticing sun spots on my chest, but I think that's from getting burned in the real sun, not tanning beds.” This is from a woman of just 27. Sun spots are only the beginning. Take it from me--from any of us who have been there--there is no end to the skin damage from tanning with beds or the sun.

Skin damage lasts a lifetime

Don’t make tanning beds part of your prom preparations. If you feel compelled to add color to your skin, look for alternatives to the sun and tanning beds. There are dozens of tinted moisturizers and self-tanners with SPF that will give your skin a glow.

Better yet, be healthy, be confident in your ability to make smart decisions, and be yourself. Prom is one night. Skin damage lasts a lifetime.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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