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Death Beds: The Fatal Consequences of Tanorexia


I’LL KEEP LIVING THIS DAY LIKE THE NEXT WILL NEVER COME

Laws enacted in December 2010 in New York State, which Coyne lobbied to get passed, aim to protect teens from indoor tanning’s dangerous effects by restricting their access to tanning salons.

The law prohibits anyone age 13 or younger from using ultraviolet radiation devices, and requires parental consent for teens ages 14 to 17 who choose to tan.


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Anyone 18 or older must provide a driver’s license or other photo identification before using a tanning bed. But these age limits aren’t always enforced, says Coyne, and she is calling for more stringent measures.

“My goal this year is for the law to be amended and to raise the tanning age to 18,” she says.

State law also requires salon operators to provide information on the dangers of indoor tanning, as well as provide protective eyewear at no charge to anyone who does not have it. But tanners can easily remove these goggles once alone in the bed.

“I only use the goggles at first to see the buttons and the time,” says Keenan. “Otherwise I don’t want to risk a tan line so I take them off and deal with having to keep my eyes closed.”

But closing one’s eyes in a tanning bed isn’t a cure-all. The skin of the eyelids is the thinnest on the body and some tanning beds’ rays can penetrate the skin up to five layers deep. For those who don’t wear the goggles, doing so can cause degeneration of the eyes.

Dammer also admits she doesn’t use the goggles.

“I do not like the raccoon-eyed look,” she says.

The operator of the tanning salon is also required by law to maintain a record of the dates and times of all tanning visits, as well as the tanning device used. These records must be maintained for a minimum of two years.

“The professional indoor tanning industry is doing its part to help individuals of all skin types minimize their risks of melanoma by teaching them how to avoid sunburn at all costs,” says the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) in a statement. “We promote smart, moderate tanning for those individuals who can develop a tan, and we believe that we communicate this message effectively.”

While studies have shown 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by UV rays, the ITA says melanoma is not associated with UV exposure from tanning beds.

“To date, no well-designed studies support the connection between melanoma and UV exposure from tanning beds,” the ITA says.

The ITA says these studies do not account for variables such as genetic predisposition and childhood sunburns. And because skin cancer has a latency period of 20 to 30 years, the high rates of skin cancer seen today are a result of people’s ignorance about sunbathing in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, according to the ITA.

The organization also says sun in moderation is necessary in order for the body to produce vitamin D, and therefore not only does not cause cancer but, in fact, prevents cancer.

“There is a growing body of well-conducted, validated scientific research demonstrating that the production of the activated form of vitamin D is one of the most effective ways the body controls abnormal cell growth,” says the ITA, which claims relating “skin damage” to tanning is misleading.

“Calling a tan ‘damage to the skin’ isn’t telling the whole story,” says the ITA. “It’s much like calling exercise ‘damage to your muscles.’ Your body is designed to repair any damage to the skin caused by ultraviolet light exposure.”

The ITA says the way muscles have to be torn and damaged in order for the body to rebuild them stronger, the same can be said of sun exposure. When asked about the positives of indoor tanning, Dammer gives a similar response.

“[Tanning] produces excess amounts of Vitamin D as it regulates the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus resulting in strong bones and teeth,” she says. “Also, it is often called the sunshine vitamin, because it is produced when the UV rays from the sun react with a cholesterol-related chemical in the skin.”

On the other side of the argument is the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

“It doesn’t take much sunlight to make all the vitamin D you can use—certainly far less than it takes to get a sun tan,” the AAD states in The Darker Side of Tanning.

The feds have tried to deter tanning as well.

A 10-percent tax on tanning went into effect last year as part of the health-care reform law. The tax applies to all electronic products designed for tanning that use one or more ultraviolet lamps with wavelengths between 200 and 400 nanometers.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that for every 10-percent price increase, cigarette consumption drops six to eight percent among young people, and that’s exactly who proponents of the law say they hope it will reach, a population many feel are being unfairly targeted by tanning companies.

The tanning tax was enough to make Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, whose name has become synonymous with tanning, change her ways—but not for long.

“I don’t go tanning anymore,” Snooki said in a promo for the MTV show in June 2010. “Because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning.”

Jersey Shore cast members have faced criticism from parents who feel their emphasis on dark skin and “GTL,” or “Gym, Tan, Laundry,” is a bad influence on their children. Snooki, who defines her race as “tan”, even had an intervention courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation.

“I’m not tanning anymore because I don’t want to get skin cancer,” Snooki said the same month, vowing to opt for spray-tanning. But as recently as last week, when asked on Twitter what she would do if tanning beds weren’t available in Italy, where the next season of Jersey Shore will tape in spring, Snooki replied, “I’m sure they are, but I can just lay out if not.”

It’s a choice Keenan has made as well, even though he is fully aware of the consequences.

“You need to pay a price to be beautiful in our society,” he says. “I mean, there definitely are people who are poor and are still beautiful, but you just won’t see them on TV or in the movies. Beauty gives you power.”

And even Dammer, who says she “used to be addicted to tanning,” still tans three to four times per week.

“Of course, I don’t want to get skin cancer from tanning, but nowadays it seems like you can get cancer from anything,” she says. “On an everyday basis people are constantly telling me not to tan. I love the advice and take it into consideration, but it’s my life and body—and I choose to tan it.”

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