Students Take On Both Healthy and Harmful Activities While Preparing for Swimsuit Season

Story by Alexandra Smith

The weather is warming up and the sun is beating down as students lay out in the Quad between classes. Midterms are over and the students at LSU have only one thing on their mind: spring break.

A student hangs out in the Quad enjoying the sun. Photo by Alexandra Smith

Since warm weather usually means less clothing and spending more time outside, the last thing on many students’ mind is protecting their skin from the sun. In fact, many use spring break as motivation for working on their appearance. And in order to look and feel their best, students are doing everything from making it a habit to get healthy and hit the gym, to putting their bodies in danger by using tanning beds.

Every spring, Kristen Bischoff, a chemical engineering senior at LSU, purchases a tanning package at a local tanning salon. According to Bischoff, working out and tanning are the most common ways students get ready for spring break.

“I know it’s kind of contradictory,” said Bischoff. “While many people are being healthy and exercising, others are harming their body by tanning.”

Looking for that “glow”

Bischoff believes that having a tan makes her look healthy and feel more attractive.

“Since a lot more skin shows in spring and summer clothes, I don’t feel confident if I’m white and pasty,” she said.

“I like to tan in a bed before spending time in the sun so that I have a little color,” she said. “My skin does not burn like it probably would if I did not already have a little tan.”

Bischoff is not the only one who believes this.

Before wearing a bathing suit in public, many people try to build a “base tan” in a tanning bed to avoid burning in the actual sun. However, according to Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at the Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, this practice is dangerous.

“There is no safe way to tan,” O’Neal said. “Recently, every study shows a direct link between tanning beds and skin cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in the United States.”

Sunlamps and tanning beds give off ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is the name for the invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun.

According to studies by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), being exposed to UV radiation and the sensitivity of a person’s skin to UV radiation are risk factors for skin cancer.

“Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer,” stated the NCI’s website.

Cancer between the sexes

Although it is common that women tan more than men, it does not mean that men are less likely to get cancer.

In fact, their chances of getting cancer are greater than that of women’s.

These are the facts from The Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50.
  • One in 39 Caucasian men and one in 58 Caucasian women will develop melanoma in their lifetimes.
  • Approximately 39,000 new cases of melanoma occur in men each year in the US, and 29,000 in women.
  • Approximately 5,700 deaths from melanoma occur in men each year in the US, and 3,000 in women.
  • Five percent of all cancers in men are melanomas; four percent of all cancers in women are melanomas.
  • Adults over age 40, especially men, have the highest annual exposure to UV.
  • Caucasian men over age 65 have had an 8.8 percent annual increase in melanoma incidence since 2003, the highest annual increase of any gender or age group.
  • Between 1980 and 2004, the annual incidence of melanoma among young women increased by 50 percent, from 9.4 cases to 13.9 cases per 100,000 women.

To many, these facts may seem surprising since women are thought to be more likely to tan than men. However, according to O’Neal, these numbers are like this because most men do not think about protecting their skin before walking outside.

“A lot of men spend many hours working outside regularly, so they have a high exposure to UV,” she said.

Even if women spent as much time outside as men, their chances of getting skin cancer would probably still be lower.

“Like men, some women do not intentionally put on sunscreen,” O’Neal said. “But whether they know it or not, a lot of the makeup or lotion they apply may contain some SPF that protects them.”

Also, according to O’Neal, women’s risk of skin cancer is lower than men’s because women are more likely to have checkups with their dermatologists regularly.

To bed or not to bed?

This information is neither new, nor is it stopping people from using the beds.

A super 15-minute tanning bed at Max Fitness. Photo by Alexandra Smith

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation’s website, on an average day, more than one million Americans use tanning salons.

“Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. every year, and 2.3 million of them are teens,” stated the website.

Regardless of this information, tanning beds have become more available. No longer exclusive to salons, more and more gyms have added tanning to their list of services.

Christy Goodwin and her brother, John Goodwin, are the general managers of Baton Rouge’s newest gym, Max Fitness, which opened on November 16, 2010.

In addition to working out, Max Fitness offers its members the opportunity to tan.

There are two types of membership. The first is a no contract, $19.99 a month membership which is only for working out. The second type of membership is a 2-year contract, $29.99 a month and includes unlimited tanning.

“Many girls are used to paying at least $30 a month to tan at tanning salons, so this is a deal for them, they get to tan monthly and workout for the same price some tanning salons charge,” said Christy.

Tanning salons around LSU campus:

Although anyone from the age of 12 and older can join Max Fitness, in order to tan members between the ages of 16 and 17 must have parental consent.

“Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot more people coming in to tan,” said Christy. “I’m sure they are getting ready for spring break.”

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, seventy-one percent of tanning salon patrons are girls and women aged 16-29.

John says this percentage is close to theirs.

“Out of the percentage of people who use our tanning beds, I would say about 60% are women and 40% are men,” he said.

Some have strong feelings about gyms providing tanning beds to its members.

“Some people feel that having tanning beds in a gym is sort of an oxymoron,” said Christy. “People workout because it is healthy and it makes them feel and look good, and I think people tan for similar reasons, but just like with anything, if you do not abuse it, I believe it is OK.”

A healthy way to get beach ready

When it comes to preparing for spring break, students are also known for hitting the gym pretty hard. But unlike tanning, exercising is the healthiest way to look and feel good.

Members working out at Max Fitness. Photo by Alexandra Smith

“I would say that 50 to 60% of our members are college students,” said Christy. “They really seem to love the cardio circuits, and are hitting them hard with summer approaching.”

John said that he can definitely tell there is a preference between the guys and girls when it comes to the type of exercises they do.

“Guys tend to concentrate on cardio and weight lifting,” he said. “While the girls usually prefer the circuit and cardio.”

According to Christy, there are different types of workouts that achieve different goals.

“You do cardio to lose weight and you strength train to raise your metabolism,” Christy explained.

According to John, the fastest and most effective way to get in shape for spring break is circuit training.

“You can do a total body workout in 18 minutes!” he said.

However, the type of workout is not the only important step to getting in bikini shape. What goes into one’s body also plays a huge role.

“Staying hydrated will keep you feeling fit and energetic throughout the day and intensify your daily workout,” said Christy.

“Your diet is key,” said John. “If you get your diet down and decrease your salt and sugar intake, you will feel and see a difference after working out for just seven days.”

A safe alternative to tanning

According to the NCI’s website, there are alternatives one can take to minimize the risk associated with artificial rays such as “using sunless tanning lotions or sprays in concert with regular skin checks by your physician or dermatologist.”

Michelle Landreneau, a senior at LSU, has never agreed with using tanning beds.

“I’ve already had so much sun damage from the sun growing up,” said Landreneau.  “I don’t need it from a box [bed].”

However, just because she is against using tanning beds does not mean she is not determined to have a little color on her skin before hitting the beach.

A couple of years ago, Landreneau began using self-tanner lotion. She only uses the lotion when preparing for summer.

Many self-tanner lotions get a bad name for streaking skin or making people orange, Landreneau said the key is to not over do it.

“As long as you apply a thin layer, you should be good,” she said. “The only problem I have with the lotions is the horrible smell, but I prefer the smell over getting cancer.”

Be sun smart!

According to O’Neal, protecting your skin from the sun is more serious than avoiding sunburn.

“Unprotected sun exposure can result in wrinkles, premature aging and of course, skin cancer,” she said. “A tan is a sign of damaged skin, it should not be seen as something beautiful.”

There are a number of ways to avoid sun damage and protect one’s skin.

The NCI states that checking one’s skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. “Early detection of skin cancer gives you the greatest chance for successful skin cancer treatment,” said the website.

In terms of daily sun protection, putting on sunscreen once in the morning is not enough.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the sunscreen needs to be an SPF of 30 or more and reapplied every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.

Protective clothing is also very crucial. Many stores and websites now offer UV-protectant pants, hats and swimsuits. Protecting eyes with sunglasses is also a must.

“Your eyes are extremely vulnerable to UVA and UVB radiation,” said O’Neal.

The AAD also recommends try to limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. because that is when the sun’s rays are strongest.

O’Neal stresses that students are not fully prepared for a safe spring break without knowing these rules.

“It does not matter how in shape you are, if you have wrinkly skin from sun damage, you will not feel confident about your body,” she said. “The easiest way to feel confident is when you know you and your body are healthy, no matter how ‘pale’ you may be.”

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