Two Wrinkles on the Tanning Addiction: Skin Cancer and Lawsuits

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Have we learned nothing since the days of tanning with baby oil and tinfoil, frying ourselves like bacon? Sporting a radiant tan has been in style ever since bikinis and mini-skirts were popular in the 1940s. However, it was not until the 70s that excessive sun exposure became linked with skin cancer. Still, despite severe warnings of cancer our beaches remain packed with sun worshippers and tanning salons still overflow with glowing customers.

Scientific research today forces us to confront real consequences and abandon ignorant sun-soaked bliss. If premature aging and wrinkles don't serve as a wake-up call to get out of the sun, then perhaps cancer will. Premature aging and skin cancer are a scary reality for those who still sunbathe and frequent tanning salons.

Skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States, comes in three types: basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas. The first two are highly curable but the last is the most dangerous. The latest statistics available from 2003 report that 45,625 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas and that same year 7,818 people in the United States died from melanomas. Studies estimate that 65 percent to 95 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light, and yes, that also includes tanning beds.

You'd think these scary realities would be enough to stop our love of the sun worshipping — but there are several reasons why we can't seem to stop tanning. One reason is rooted in our own biology. Our brains are programmed to find certain qualities attractive — like a glowing tan. But, love connections aren't the only reasons many people crave a tan, we also find tanning relaxing and stress-relieving.

Some studies suggest that tanning may even be addicting — like cigarettes or alcohol. According to the American Academy of Dermatology tanning produces endorphins leaving us feeling good, desiring more and ultimately leading to repetitive behavior. The addiction to tanning is best illustrated by skin cancer patients who still cannot stop tanning.

Recently a class action lawsuit was filed against the five leading U.S. sunscreen manufacturers claiming that they deceptively promote their products as being complete protection from all harmful sun rays. Essentially the lawsuit asserts that the companies have been promoting sunbathing by promising complete protection in order to increase sales. Consumers say they're misinformed because sunscreen companies claim to protect against UVB rays but silently mislead them by not mentioning or protecting against a second type, UVA rays, which are equally dangerous.

But are sunscreen companies really to blame, or do we also need to take some responsibility for our bronzing behavior? Lets face it … most tanning addicts or "tanorexics" are well aware of the consequences of prolonged sun exposure. Sunscreen companies should only be liable if they are falsely touting protection that their products don't deliver.

Upcoming investigations will determine how forthcoming these companies have been about damage from UVA rays. While I believe that we can't hold companies responsible for all evils, they should be held responsible if they are literally tanning the hides of teenagers for a profit without warning of the dire safety risks. Sunscreen is an important part of sun safety, but most people know from widespread news coverage and common sense that usage alone does not allow us to bake in the sun for hours.

While cancer threats have proved futile at reducing sun-exposure, a new test may be more promising at finally getting through to the tanning obsessed. Pitting one vanity against another, a high tech ultraviolet photograph shows people their skin's hidden sun damage and gives them a glimpse into their wrinkled future. Concerns over wrinkles and future unattractiveness might be just what the doctor ordered to finally scare tanners into adopting safer sunning behavior.


Lawsuit against sunscreen companies
Things should be done in sun
Lawsuit: Sunscreens Offer False Promise of Protection
Hooked on Tanning? Withdrawal Symptoms Back ‘Tanning Addiction’
Tanning beds: Safer than the sun?
Bullshit article saying reasons tanning is safe- put out by tanning bed company
Are Tanning Salons Safe?
Do Tanning Beds Cause Skin Cancer and Other Harmful Effects?
High-Tech Photos Show Early Sun Damage
Sunscreen makers sued for misleading claims


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.