Today’s teens may be juuling and eating Tide Pods, but they are also doing some things right. Statistics say they are having safer sex and are using effective birth control more than ever, and that fewer teens are smoking cigarettes in comparison to recent years. And now a recent study suggests that use of tanning beds among teenagers is on the decline.
See? Yay, teens!
And by the way, I’m really in no position to pass a whole lot of judgment on these kids, as I was a tanning bed girl through and through. As a normally pasty-white freckled girl, my goal by the end of August was boast that fresh-from-the-beach glow. And in order to achieve any semblance of a skin color beyond the shade of my grandmother’s china, I had my work cut out for me. But I was committed.
May and June were dedicated to achieving the “base tan,” which really just means “base burn.” This step often required me to lay out by the pool or at the beach with zero sunscreen for as long as possible. Having suffered annual burns throughout my childhood, I knew enough to not slather myself with baby oil, but what I did wasn’t much better. After soothing with a little aloe and suffering through a three-day peel, the “base tan” was well on its way. (No, it wasn’t. Not even a little. But try telling me that in 1997.)
And to compound the effects of intentionally burning my precious top layers of skin at the pool or beach, you can be damn sure I hit up those tanning beds. In fact, at 17 and 18 years old, I think my income from working part-time as a cashier at Walgreens looked something like this: 20%: nails, 20%: hair, 20%: tanning. And the rest I blew on clothes, shoes, and Taco Bell.
’90s girls were all over the tanning salons. We ignored the warnings about skin cancer the way our parents ignored the Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarette cartons in the ’80s. I mean, how bad could it really be? We brushed off any concerns, hopped our pre-baby, cellulite-free, could-eat-a-cheeseburger-and-burn-it-off-in-5-minutes bodies under those heat lamps and dreamed about how orangey-brown we’d be 20 minutes later.
And if you hung out in my close-knit circle of girlfriends, you knew about the golden secret that lived at the house down the street—a tanning bed in the basement. Jackpot! My friend Michele’s parents let us use it whenever we wanted for free, but the weeks leading up to prom were prime time for that sucker. We all got in line, got tan, and closed our minds to any scary possibilities starting with C that lurked in our future.
Well, thankfully today’s teens are smarter than we were (about this, at least). Maybe it’s because they can’t ignore the warnings anymore. Maybe it’s because kids from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s grew up to actually get skin cancer and scare the shit out of them. Whatever it took, it was worth it. An article shared by Reuters says that according to a couple different studies, teen use of tanning beds has declined by one third to one half in recent years.
The article talks about the damage of burns from tanning beds, sharing that “among 18 to 29-year-old white women, 77 percent of indoor tanners reported a sunburn compared to 62.5 percent of peers who didn’t use indoor tanning.” Also addressed is the misconception of the “base tan“—something I bought into every year growing up. Once you get that initial burn done, you’re good, right? Then you just tan all summer and it doesn’t hurt, so clearly you aren’t getting cancer or anything? NO! Oh, how stupid we were.
So why the decline? Did kids finally get scared enough and realize how lethal melanoma really is? We’d like to think so, but this article also attributes the reduction in numbers to other factors, including government legislation. “The drop in tanning bed usage may be related to the 10 percent excise tax implemented by the Affordable Care Act in 2010, as well as state laws restricting minors’ access to tanning beds,” the article states.
Also, I can remember when spray-tanning salons started popping up, and I think they were a huge game changer. I did my first spray tan for my sister’s wedding in 2006, and it was glorious. You do have to count and avoid “pulling a Ross” (cue the 90s Friends reference) so you don’t tan one side of yourself four times, but once you figure it out, it’s pretty easy. And it doesn’t permanently damage skin cells in the top three layers of the only skin you get for your entire life. It just stains them, and maybe also your clothes and sheets if you don’t dry quickly. But you’re tan, so whatever.
And girlfriends, we are in our 30s and 40s now. If we were lucky enough to get through those years of unsafe tanning without the development of cancerous cells, we know now what all that burning did to us. “Tanning leads to wrinkling and sun spots — ask any 40-something woman what she regrets doing, and you’ll get the same response,” says Sherry Pagoto of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
And she’s right. If you over-tanned in your younger years, you may see Magda from Something About Mary when you look in the mirror now. And that shit ain’t good.
So I’m glad today’s teens are making safer choices and skipping harmful tanning beds. If they could quit eating Tide Pods, things would really start looking up.