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Last week, I attended a State house hearing on Massachusetts’s Senate Bill 1229, “An act further regulating tanning facilities.”Summer Interns ME The Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation Executive Director, Maryellen Maguire-Eisen, along with a foundation educator, Maura Flynn, testified in support of the bill to the Public Health Committee. Their testimonies were articulate and informative providing statistics on pediatric and adult melanoma distribution, as well as sharing their personal experiences in caring for patients with skin cancer. They stated that research supports that the high distribution of skin cancer cases among teenage girls and young women was due to overexposure to UV rays, including indoor tanning. They suggested that banning teens from indoor tanning was one way to reduce the risk for this deadly disease. Senator Richard J. Ross, inquired if there were solid statistics proving it was indoor tanning that caused skin cancer rather than a more “natural” acquisition. Maryellen responded that indoor tanning was shown in case controlled studies to increase an individual’s risk of melanoma by 76%, however their were no statistics that showed the exact number of cases. Maura also did a great job of educating the committee on how the state regulations outline the inspection process carried out by public health nurses and agents as well as the parental consent requirements.
Glen Asaro, a firefighter, father of five teenagers, and tanning salon owner, provided testimony in opposition of the bill. He made the argument that indoor tanning has many “benefits” for teenagers including improving acne and boosting self-esteem. He said that an under 18 ban would negatively impact his income. After the hearing, Françoise and I asked Maryellen about this acne comment. She explained that the reason UV rays improve acne is that it decreases the body’s immune response in the skin, which reduces inflammation and acne looks better. She said that dermatologists treat psoriasis and eczema with UV light too, but patients are warned about their increased risk for skin cancer.
As, a rising senior at a public high school, I witness the indoor tanning problem firsthand. Teenage girls have gotten the idea that unnaturally colored skin is the key to feeling confident and beautiful. In glamor magazines, writers regard a trip to the tanning salon with any other pre-event grooming practice like a mani/pedi or finding the right dress. While I blame Hollywood and Photoshop for much of today’s teen-confidence crisis, I also feel that a certain amount of blame should be shared with the general population. These girls feel pressured to fit society’s definition of beauty, and are sacrificing their health to achieve it. During her testimony, Maryellen testified that a student had questioned her why one had to be 18 to get a tattoo, yet only 16 to go indoor tanning. She said that the student surmised that indoor tanning must be more dangerous than tattooing. The unfortunate thing is that salon owners do not seem to comprehend the personal health risk of indoor tanning to American teenagers.
Joseph Levy, Executive Director of the International Smart Tan Network, discounted the earlier testimony stating that the skin cancer statistics were inflated and inaccurate. It seemed to me that his testimony was very insulting to the medical professionals. Mr. Levy repeatedly said that these “overstatements” and “misinformation” are causing public confusion regarding the topic of indoor tanning, and that his organization’s intention was to “clear up this confusion”. My personal reaction to this statement was this: a person dying isn’t really confusing. I’m not saying that one visit to a tanning salon or one sunburn will kill you. In fact, I won’t even go so far as to say that UV exposure will harm you. All I will say is that a vast majority of healthcare professionals say that, whether indoor or outdoor, tanning can cause skin cancer. And personally, I recognize that medical professionals know a little more about health than I do.
I learned quite a lot from attending this hearing, and after thinking about all of this information, I have created the central concept of my mini-testimony on the topic: many products or practices are “good for you” (or at least not dangerous) in moderation. However, even the most healthy of these practices, for example, drinking water, can be harmful in excessive quantity (most people don’t know that by drinking too much water in one sitting, one can actually drown inside his/her own body). My point isn’t that you should stop drinking water, it’s that “moderation” has a different definition for every product with which it is associated. UV exposure, in moderation, is healthy. In fact, without Vitamin D, we’d die. However, by going outside into that place called nature with appropriate protection (like sunscreen), we are getting our moderate exposure. Moderation definitely isn’t laying in a tanning bed while being bombarded with UV rays 6 times stronger than those coming from the sun, especially for adolescents whose bodies are still growing and developing. Why risk self-harm for a temporary remedy for the confidence crisis plaguing our society? Don’t endorse choosing “beauty” over health. Instead, be SunAWARE.

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