4 April, 2008


Posted in Female Image tagged , , , at 3:25 pm by breathingbullets


Your skin is your body’s best friend. It keeps everything that’s meant to be inside you in, and it puts up a pretty good fight with everything else. Out of love for Dane Cook, I have to add that if you’ve ever been fully engulfed in fire, that’s gotta be so hot. But it’s your skin receptors that let you know how much it burns. So…why’s everyone so determined to change it? I’m not talking about the, “Myeh, I have acne…I should probably clear up these blemishes” or the, “Wow, that’s a lot of cellulite, how do I reduce it?” I’m not even talking about the gullible person who thinks that a $90 bottle of lotion will remove stretch marks when all you need is time, Vitamin E, frequent exfoliation, and a workout plan that tones the area. I’m talking about the tanners and the skin lighteners.
Having been born a few shades beyond a perma-tan, I never really got to be a part of the tanning craze. I know that way back in the day, if you were really pale, you were a porcelain goddess. I’m not entirely sure about the shift, and I am too lazy to research it (yes, naughty me), but I think it may have a lot to do with the change in the societal role of women. A long time ago—post-Jesus but pre-Martin Luther King Jr.—a young Southern Belle would stay indoors while slaves would do, well, slave labor. Already dark slaves would get darker, and the wealthy belle would maintain her ivory tone. If she had to go out, it was probably with a parasol in her gloved hands.

I know that in other societies, darkened skin was often associated with the laboring class. I remember reading somewhere that the young Cleopatra would have to use harsh exfoliates to remove the dead, darker skin after her journeys outdoors. But times changed, and girls were entitled to roam about the big bad world, and the sun-kissed tan became associated with good health while the once-prized blanched hue came with the accompanying connotations of sickliness. But how healthy is an unnatural tan?

I found a New York Times article from 1987, and the interviewed doctor said that women were more responsive to the fact that excessive sun exposure caused “large pores and blackheads” than they were to the whole skin cancer thing. Catching up with our decade, it’s been found that some side effects of excessive tanning are malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma (yes, all three are different types of skin cancer). So, just in case cancer isn’t enough of a threat, excessive tanning has also been associated with premature aging…so tan today for collagen shots tomorrow.

There are some sites, like this one, that promote tanning salons. They say that the cancerous qualities are often exaggerated. The FAQ ends with the lovely note that tanning beds are all FDA approved. Though we all know how great the FDA was when it came to Fen-Phen, trusting them with products that haven’t undergone thorough longitudinal studies is perfectly reasonable. Just in case we missed the sarcasm, here’s the new trend in skin cancer:

Skin Cancer Chart


And in case Ashley Lynn’s Tanning is more trustworthy than an arbitrary graphic from the Center of Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute claims, “Studies suggest that reducing unprotected exposure to the sun and to artificial light from tanning beds, tanning booths, and sun lamps can lower the risk of skin cancer. Avoiding sunburns, intermittent high intensity exposure, and other damage from these sources—especially in children and teens—reduces the chances of getting melanoma skin cancer. All of these types of skin cancers are most common in light-skinned people, although they also occur in people with darker skin.”

But remember…tanning beds are FDA approved, so we know they’re safe even if the National Cancer Institute says otherwise, and Ashley Lynn does seem to have a pretty good head on her shoulders, so why not listen to her quack doctors skew evidence? But then…maybe that’s not the issue at hand. People know this shit and do it anyway. Anyone care to tell me why?

I’ll do the flip side—skin lightening creams and soaps—another day. This was getting to be too long.

– *- C.K.

Special thanks to:

Ashley Lynn’s Tanning, National Cancer Institute , Center for Disease Control , The New York Times (Linda Wells), Kate Cohen , the American Academy of Dermatology, and of course, Dane Cook. ❤

Oh, and an easy to read site with lots of information that I didn’t bother incorporating: Study of Tanning Effects