This past weekend we celebrated my twin daughters’ 12th birthday with a few friends, pizza and a trip to the movie theater to see Cinderella. It’s safe to say that I’m holding on tight to these years of innocence before we get to the interest in boys, makeup, hair worries and prom season. Although I must say that I see glimpses of it coming my way far too quickly as hair worries have slowly become an issue in our house!
While at the movie theater I overheard a group of teens chatting about boys, the upcoming prom, and indoor tanning. As if the thought of my daughters soon to be chatting about boys and prom didn’t scare me enough already, it was the banter about indoor tanning that sent true shivers down my spine. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, nearly 2.3 million teenagers in the US tan indoors annually, and prom season may hold even more temptation to tan. There are a plethora of tanning salons and many are currently advertising prom specials, encouraging girls to get a “healthy glow” to accentuate that new prom dress. However that “healthy glow” is anything but healthy – it is extremely dangerous. And when it comes time to get ready for prom (in a few years) my girls won’t be tanning, and neither should yours.
I’m not going to lie. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I used tanning salons to achieve what teens believed was that required “California glow.” What I didn’t know at the time, and what researchers have since determined, is that use of tanning beds under the age of 35 can increase melanoma risk by 75 percent. That’s melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Unfortunately I now know a thing or two about melanoma, one of the cruelest of all cancers. I lost my father to melanoma five years ago – he was 67 years old. Although he did not acquire it from indoor tanning, his is a common story of melanoma, an often deadly and quickly spreading cancer. Melanoma moved to my father’s brain and multiplied viciously throughout his body leading to his death in just over a year. My amazing friend and colleague Stacey survived her bout with this cruel disease, but not without her share of battle scars both literal and figurative. Stacey’s melanoma was caused by indoor tanning and she lives with the effects of her cancer every day. Melanoma is a disease that doesn’t discriminate, and one that I’d be happy to never encounter again. It is aggressive, it is hard to treat, and yet in many cases it can be prevented. Still every year nearly 500 Nevadans are diagnosed with melanoma.
As a public health professional working in the field of cancer I was lucky enough to be a part of the passage of SB267, known by some as Nevada’s “Tan Ban.” Passed by the Nevada Legislature in 2013 and effective July 1 of that year, the law prohibits minors under 18 from using indoor tanning devices and places certain safety requirements on tanning bed operators. Passage of the law took three legislative sessions and the time and effort of numerous skin cancer prevention advocates. And yet, many parents still aren’t aware of the law. So I’m making you aware, not to scare your teens or make you feel guilty for any time spent in our younger years indoor tanning, but to give you the same knowledge I have and the same opportunity to keep your kids safe from something that’s so preventable, and so unnecessary.
As parents we work diligently to keep our children out of harm’s way and to demonstrate that beauty comes from within. In addition, the body positive movement continues to grow in strength daily with the help of mainstream projects like Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, and less mainstream projects like Carol Rossetti designs. As we struggle to teach our children to embrace the skin they’re in, I’ve found this quote from Carol Rossetti to resonate: “Your identity shouldn’t be denied because of your appearance, for it is much more complex than skin tone.” If we can work together to continue to focus on health and well-being rather than appearance, perhaps when my daughters have daughters of their own they’ll have so much less to worry about.
Cari Herington is the single mom of tween twins that keep her on the move with their many extracurricular activities. Originally from the Bay Area, she’s been a Nevadan since 1992 and earned her MBA from University of Nevada, Reno. Cari currently serves as executive director of the Nevada Cancer Coalition, a nonprofit focused on cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, survivorship, and advocacy. She has built and led organizations and coalitions focused on protecting and improving the health of Nevadans for more than two decades.