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The darker effects of tanning

AP Photo- Al Grillo

Host Intro:

RAYMOND: For some who use tanning booths, the appeal is more than just looking good, it makes them feel good too. But there are health risks associated with getting an unnatural glow.

CAROLINE: Yesterday, Hollywood Tans agreed to stop selling their unlimited tanning packages, after the New York Attorney General found they were advertising false health claims. Hilary Brueck reports on the effects of this five billion dollar industry.

BRUECK: If for some reason, you didn’t know that tanning increases your risk of developing skin cancer, a quick look at the Food and Drug Administration website will tell you why tanning beds are bad for your health.

FDA tape: The international agency for research on cancer has recently moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category “carcinogenic to humans”

Gina Louizzi knows tanning is dangerous. She lives just north of the city and tans every other day. She’s 22 now, but the first time she went into the tanning bed she was 14. Her mom took her. And she was hooked.

LOUIZZI: You just have that time to yourself, and it’s nice.

Louizzi posts blue-tinted tanning booth pictures on Instagram, for her over 800 followers. She won’t go more than a few days without tanning.

LOUIZZI: “I worry that I’m gonna lose my tan and that I’m gonna fade and go back to being white and pale.”

That fear of “losing the tan” is pretty common. Daniel Ratcliffe is a graduate student at NYU. He used to tan three times a week.

RATCLIFFE: “the minute it would start fading I would be like oh my gosh I have to get back to the tanning bed.”

Ratcliffe was a high school cheerleader in South Carolina. He started going tanning –three dollars a session- to look as bronzed as the rest of his squad. He says the tanning bed became his place to take a break from it all. Lather on a little lotion, put on a little Marvin Gaye, and get ready to heat up…

GAYE: “I’m hot just like an oven, I need some lovin’…”

RATCLIFFE: These 15 minutes I didn’t have to worry about anything and I was going to look great after I got out of the bed.

Ratcliffe stopped using tanning beds in college. He misses it sometimes, but says he just can’t ignore the health risks. For some who tan, quitting is not so easy.

Lisham Ashrafioun is a psychology researcher at Bowling Green State University. He says recent research suggests the calming benefits of tanning really are all in your head—specifically in your brain, where they release opioids that help boost your mood.

ASHRAFIOUN: It does seem to be affecting the reward processes in the brain. So it’s not just the fact that taking away depression or anxiety makes it beneficial, but it may also just make people feel good as well.

Ashrafioun just conducted a survey of students who tan at Bowling Green. More than 30 percent met the criteria for “tanning dependence.” Like substance abusers, they tan even when it starts to create problems in their life. Ashrafioun says traditional health warnings aren’t working anymore. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, nationwide, a third of teenagers are tanning.

ASHRAFIOUN: I think at this point, even if they don’t understand they don’t really care about the harms. So doing something a little bit more than just educating them can be helpful.

New York Psychologist Agnes Selinger specializes in obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. She says when people really want to stop tanning, the best way is to have them slowly face their greatest fear: being pale.

SELINGER: We would work on accepting a lighter shade. Let’s say they go every day. We would come to an agreement together, let’s try one time this week, decreasing it by one minute, and tolerating that anxiety, it creates a lot of discomfort to not be able to tan a full 20 mins.

She says often patients are preoccupied with tanning. She even refers to it as

SELINGER: tanorexia

Like a disorder–body dysmorphic disorder. That’s when someone’s fixated on thinking a certain part of their body needs to be different.

SELINGER: A person is dissatisfied with the shape or how it looks, and their thoughts and their actions are constantly engaged in that specific body part. And the same is true for tanning.

That means it’s difficult for many to stop. Like Gina Louizzi, the 22-year-old tanner who goes every other day.

LOUIZZI: “While I’m young I just want to tan, maybe for another ten years.”

Until then, she’ll keep up her current color- more worried the tan might fade than cancer moles or spots will surface.

Hilary Brueck, Columbia Radio News.

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