When Kristin Lemons discovered that she had precancerous skin cells that can lead to melanoma, she knew it was time to stop using tanning beds.
That was a smart call, considering that Nebraska has the highest melanoma mortality rate in the United States, said Dr. Mary Finnegan, a dermatologist at Braddock Finnegan Dermatology P.C. and former president of the Nebraska Dermatology Society. She said there has been a significant increase in melanoma among young women in the past few years. This is on trend with increased use of tanning beds by that same age group.
Lemons, who used tanning beds for about 10 years starting at age 17, said she will no longer use them. The precancerous cells were a wakeup call. Lemons, now 28, “tans” at Glam Tans, a spray-tanning salon in Millard,
In May 2011, the International Journal of Cancer reported that 76 percent of melanomas diagnosed between ages 18 and 29 were attributed to tanning bed use, Finnegan said. As a dermatologist, she sees the long-term effects of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation — from malignant melanoma to basal cell carcinoma to accelerated photoaging (premature brown spots and wrinkling).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who start tanning before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma.
“I have seen patients lose their lives due to melanoma,” Finnegan said. “Patients with advanced melanoma have few options for treatment available . . . with regulation, thousands of skin cancers can be prevented.”
The federal Food and Drug Adminstration has issued more stringent recommendations and the Affordable Care Act includes a 10 percent tax on tanning bed use in salons.
Elizabeth Edwards, a professional dancer who operates Glam Tans, heeds the warnings. She has a family history of melanoma. In 1989, her grandfather died from it.
Though Edwards knew she needed to be cautious, avoiding UV exposure was a challenge early in her career, when
tanning was part of a professional ballroom and Latin dancer's lifestyle.
“When I was a new instructor going to college, my colleagues owned tanning beds. Now that they are in their mid-30s, I have seen how much it has aged their skin,” Edwards said. “I went to them when I was younger, and after seeing them now I told myself I will never tan in a bed again.”
So she took matters into her own hands and opened her spray-tanning business a little more than a year ago. Several of her clients have skin damage similar to what Lemons experienced, and had been advised to steer clear of excess sun exposure and tanning beds.
Edwards said they are enthusiastic about spray tanning, which lets them stay bronzed without all the risk.
“The active ingredient in self-tanners, dihydroxyacetone, is felt to be safe . . . if the chemical is not inhaled into the lungs,” Finnegan said. With that in mind, Glam Tans provides nose plugs and/or a doctor's facemask to clients as necessary.
Spray-tanning sessions average $30 each. Many salons, including Glam Tans, require parental approval for those age 18 and younger.
Dermatologists such as Finnegan, and tanning fans such as Edwards who have been affected by skin issues, support more healthy options for those who yearn for that summer glow.
“I'd rather use preventative maintenance now than have to look in the mirror in 20 years and wish that I hadn't tanned as much,” Edwards said.