Our Image of Beauty May be Contributing to the Rise of Skin Cancer

Merely Me Health Guide
  • I was flipping through the TV channels one afternoon and heard a bronzed reality star on a talk show advise young women that in order to be beautiful they should be tan…all the time. I turned the channel only to find another talk show about three young women who hid behind “beauty crutches.” For one young lady it was her foundation, for another it was her hair weave, and for the third it was her tan. The young woman who he needed a tan to feel beautiful explained that she felt nobody would notice her if she were pale. For some, tan skin is being equated with beauty and pale is deemed as “unhealthy” or unattractive. Yet living up to this standard of beauty can be fatal.

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    Despite the ability to use sunless tanning products there are still many people who sun bathe or use a tanning bed to get a tan. The population who seems to utilize these unsafe tanning practices the most is young women. If you think skin cancer is an old person’s disease guess again. Doctors and dermatologists have been increasingly alarmed in recent years that the rates of melanoma  are rising especially for young women. In a recent Live Science news article entitled, “Why Skin Cancer Is on the Rise” a statistic was given that 71 percent of tanning salon customers are young women. At the same time incidents of melanoma have increased for this population by 2.2 percent.


    And here is the scary conclusion: Skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer for Americans who are between the ages of 25-29. This is especially alarming given the fact that skin cancer is so preventable.


    We have been telling you all along here on My Skin Care Connection that there is no such thing as a “healthy tan” if it comes from lying out in the sun or using a tanning bed. Each time you tan you are causing skin damage. The irreversible skin damage from sun tans and tanning beds may include: Brown spots, loss of skin elasticity, sagging, wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging. In addition, sun bathing and the use of tanning beds puts you at risk for skin cancer.


    Let me repeat the statistics for the health risks of using a tanning bed. A twenty-minute session in a tanning bed is the equivalent to several hours of sun tanning outdoors. A tanning bed intensifies the skin damage process. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, cited research to show that if you are using tanning beds before the age of thirty you are upping your risk for melanoma by 75%. In addition, a recent University of Michigan study found that frequent users of indoor tanning beds are up to three times more likely to develop melanoma than people who never use tanning devices.


    So clearly there is a link between sun bathing and the use of tanning beds and an increased risk for acquiring a deadly skin cancer

    So why do so many people still engage in these unsafe practices? And the answer can be found in the title of this post. It is my belief that our cultural vision of beauty is the main culprit of why so many women are risking their health for a tan.

  • As evidence of our cultural values take a look at the celebrity gossip sites such as the entertainment section of the New York Daily News where they showcase “pale stars.” What are the words they use to describe their pallor? Ghostly, vampire-like, corpses, and anemic.

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    And on TMZ the caption below the lovely fair skinned actress Julianne Moore advises that “Julianne Moore could use some Hours at the beach.”

    No, no she doesn’t.

    The comments by viewers on these celebrity gossip sites seem to indicate that the public is becoming fed up with the tanning brigade and understands that UV damage isn’t attractive over time. Some of the commenters retaliated with asking why someone would want to look like an Oompah Loompah (remember the orange guys of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?) or a leather couch by the time they are thirty.

    It is fascinating how much we will risk our health to become beautiful by our culture’s standards. In the United States fair skinned people tan to be beautiful. But in countries like India or Asia it is pale skin which is equated with beauty. In order to meet the cultural standards for beautiful skin some Asian women are bleaching their skin with dangerous and illegal skin whiteners. Check out this New York Times article  about how some Asian women are risking their health and appearance to lighten their skin. The price for beauty seems rather high around the world.


    My motto is to love the skin you are in.

    Don’t risk your health to change your skin tone or color. Wrinkles, sagging skin, and skin cancer are not worth the tan from the tanning salon or frying your skin like bacon on the beach. You are beautiful just the way you are.

Published On: June 29, 2010