One year ago this week, I tanned in a salon for the first time. This year has been filled with many new experiences and I have learned so much. I thought it might be good to look back and share what the experience has been like, and what I’ve learned.
To recap: In January of 2012 I had a physical and my Vitamin D level was tested, the results were that I had a blood level of 11 nanograms-per-milliliter (11ng/ml) My doctor wanted me to take 50 thousand IU of Vitamin D per week and prescribed a once a week pill of 50k IU. My thyroid has been abnormal for a few years now and I take medication for that every morning, but according to the label for the thyroid medication, I am not to eat for an hour after taking it, and also no vitamins can be taken within 4 hours (before or after) of it. So I forgot more than I remembered to take the pill. Especially a pill I only had to take once a week. I tried to just get over the counter Vitamin D in lower levels that would add up to 50k per week, and take them on a daily basis. Still no luck at consistently remembering to take it so I started doing more research on Vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually a hormone produced naturally in the body when exposed to UVB rays from the sun. It made sense that I was deficient because of my fair skin I burned any time I was in the sun for more than 10 minutes. I have avoided the sun for years. Looking into it further I kept seeing information that tanning beds could be an option for me. So I decided to visit a salon to see how things worked.
I had never been in a tanning salon before. The only experience I had ever had with it was when my best friend in high school went to a salon once in a while. She didn’t burn and really didn’t go on a regular basis, so I had no idea what it was like. I had the impression that you go in and lay in a bed for the amount of time you determine. I was mistaken. I was pleased that when I went in to Tan the Moon in my neighborhood, they had a knowledgeable staff. They gave me a questionnaire to fill out about my skin and how it reacts to the sun. We determined that I am a very fair skin type 2. Tanning was possible but it would be something to monitor closely. I started conservatively with just 2 minute sessions every other day. I had no sign of burn after a week so we increased the time by a minute each week, carefully assessing my skin throughout the process to ensure there was no burn. In April I had my blood level checked and the results were astonishing. I was at 75ng/ml. I continued the tanning every 2 to 3 days for a while increasing the time by 1-2 minutes each week. I got up to 18 minute sessions in a level 1 bed. I was able to go outdoors over the summer for hours without burning because I had a base tan protecting me. With the increased time I was able to spend outdoors, I started to scale back my tanning sessions to once a week for 15 minutes. I will be going back to my doctor in the coming month and I am curious to see what my level is with this type of schedule.
So just from that part of the experience I learned about how salons take into consideration a person’s skin type and that they limit how much time you spend in a tanning bed based on that. I learned that the fairest skin type, skin type 1 is not allowed to tan in a salon because that skin type will not tan. I learned that I am a very fair skin type 2 which is why I was able to use the equipment in a slow, careful, moderate way. I learned that there are time limits on each tanning bed no matter what skin type you are. I learned the time limit is based on calculations to give you 2/3 UV exposure that would induce a burn so there is a nice safe cushion of time to ensure burning doesn’t happen. I learned that a base tan does work at protecting skin from burning. I found that salons have my safety as their highest priority.
I also learned that my Vitamin D level is connected to my muscle aches that I have suffered for years. Since dislocating my knee 7 years ago I have had constant pain and walking any distance was difficult. When I raised my Vitamin D level the pain subsided and I have been able to go to the gym and exercise without the pain that held me back for years. I’ve lost 35 pounds because I can exercise without pain. I have started walking 5k races and that takes me about an hour. The races are generally in the morning hours and there are always activities afterwards that I can mingle and participate in. I have done this without worry of sunburn since I have a base tan protecting my skin. Like I said, before tanning, I was not able to be in the sun for more than 10 minutes so being able to be out walking for over an hour is a life changing success. I was able to go to the pool with my kids without worry over the summer for the first time in my life. This is thanks to tanning and the base tan I have acquired.
I have learned there is a lot of bad press blaming tanning salons for increasing the risk of skin cancer when the actual risks are linked to other forms of tanning. The statistic cited over and over again is that “tanning before the age of 35 increases a person’s risk by 75%”, this is misleading. The World Health Organization's report comes from including other, more dangerous methods of tanning in order to get that statistic, yet it is never pointed out that salons were the method that showed no significant increase in risk. The report studied home units, dermatologist’s phototherapy treatments, and salons. Of those studied, home units increased the risk by around 35%, dermatologists increased the risk by 95% and THAT is what makes up that shocking 75% number. The media is not breaking that down and leads the public to believe that the full 75% comes from salons. That is wrong. There should be accountability for that.
I have learned that tanning helps with several skin conditions and members of my own family use tanning to treat various skin conditions. Psoriasis, Acne, Eczema are all treated successfully with tanning beds. Dermatologists offer treatments for these conditions using the same equipment for up to 10 times the cost to the consumer. I find it fascinating that dermatologists are the ones that are pushing to make laws limiting or outright banning salons when they themselves use the same equipment for phototherapy. They are increasing the risk of skin cancer by 95% because they do not have the safety practices in place like salons do. They don’t even take into consideration what a patient’s skin type is so they WILL treat a skin type 1 person with UV exposure. That is dangerous. Hypocritical much dermatologists?
I keep hearing/seeing the argument that tanning beds have been classified as a level 1 carcinogen to try to alarm the public. They point out that there are terrible things that have been classified that way too like smoking and plutonium. What they don’t point out is that there are other everyday things that are classified as a level 1 carcinogen as well. To name a few, BBQ meats, wine, birth control pills, salted fish, and sawdust. They want to point out the carcinogen classification to scare people. It is another misleading and inaccurate method to try to sway you to believe tanning equals death. Tanning beds are classified that way because they emit the same UV rays as the sun; the sun is also classified as a level 1 carcinogen. Moderation is the right way to approach UV exposure and that should be the message. The UV avoidance message is what is contributing to the epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency. The scare tactics need to stop.
Sunscreen should also be used in moderation. Cosmetic manufacturers would like you to believe that you need sunscreen every day all day. Most Dermatologists are endorsing that message and that is irresponsible. This is a major factor in the Vitamin D deficiency crisis. If you slather on chemical sunscreen every day to block UV rays, you will not have a healthy Vitamin D level. That is increasing your risk of over 100 diseases and health risks including many forms of cancer. So to me it seems Dermatologists feel it is a better trade off to risk other forms of cancer by blocking UV rays to combat the risk of skin cancer. That makes no sense. Why it is so hard to endorse a reasonable balanced message of UV moderation and that sunscreen should only be used when there is a risk of overexposure?
I have learned that tanners come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Many people seem to think a typical tanner looks like those in the media like Snooki or “the tanning mom” which doesn’t help the image of what it really is. Tanners are normal just like you or me, not the extreme of what the media hypes.
I think the year to come is going to be challenging, but I’m up for it. I hope to be able to give the other side of the story to those that have only heard the negative aspects of tanning.