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Dermatologist: Don't make fun of 'Tan Mom'

  • L.A. Dermatologist Jessica Wu says tanning, like being overweight, is a serious health risk
  • She says people like 'Tan Mom' keep tanning despite the health dangers because they like how a tan makes them look
  • Instead of using tanning beds, Dr. Wu recommends using bronzing lotion and always wearing sunscreen when outdoors
Dermatologist: Don't make fun of 'Tan Mom'
Jessica Wu

Editor’s note: Dr. Jessica Wu is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Keck School of Medicine. She is the author of “Feed Your Face,” and the co-founder of BeautyShares Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps build self-esteem in disadvantaged young women.

Many patients in my dermatology practice have asked me what I think about "Tan Mom," the woman who was arrested this week for allegedly taking her five-year-old daughter into a tanning booth. Although she denies taking her child tanning, Patricia Krentcil could face up to 10 years in prison if she’s convicted of child endangerment.While the idea of allegedly endangering a child in such a way is horrifying, equally horrifying to me was the color of her skin. It was so dark, she looked like she was literally burnt to a crisp. Some of my patients even told me they thought she looked like a clown. 

READ MORE: 'Tan Mom' could face 10 years in prison

It’s easy to make fun of "Tan Mom" because her behavior is as outrageous as the color of her skin. But why is it OK to make fun of tan people, when it’s not OK to ridicule people because of their weight? After all, tanning, like being overweight, is a health risk. Just as obesity is linked to heart disease and diabetes, indoor tanning has been linked to malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. 

A new study from the Mayo Clinic points to indoor tanning beds as one of the main reasons for the dramatic increase in melanoma among young women and men in the past 40 years.  Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults, and it is estimated that one American dies of melanoma almost every hour. So why do people continue to tan, despite these risks? 

WATCH: Dr. Drew: 'Wear sunscreen'

I think I know why. You see, I like looking tan myself. Although some of my dermatology colleagues may attack me for this, I happen to think I look better—taller, more toned, healthier -- when I have a little color. While I appreciate pale-skinned beauty, I personally prefer to have some color, and I like to spend time outdoors.

I also enjoy visiting the tanning salon myself -- that is, the spray-tan salon. 

In fact, I’m taking my summer vacation in a few weeks, and I’ve been looking for a new place to get spray-tanned. It’s been a difficult search, because many salons that offer spray tans are the same ones that have tanning beds and booths. And I feel conflicted about supporting a business that’s a public health risk.

Most of these businesses claim that their beds are safer than laying out in the sun and provide a “safe” way of getting UV rays. But the risk with tanning beds is that you may not burn right away because many beds filter out the UVB (burning) rays, although you will certainly see future results of deeper UVA damage in the form of sun spots, wrinkles, and a greater risk of skin cancer. And, you won’t even get the benefit of Vitamin D, because these beds don’t provide the UVB rays that stimulate your skin to make Vitamin D.

READ MORE: 'Tan Mom': I didn't put child in tanning bed

So my search continues for a spray tan facility that doesn’t have tanning beds. Until then, I’ve stocked up on bronzing lotion—and you should too. Also, remember to always take sun protection very seriously: Wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors, eat foods that provide UV protection, like cooked tomatoes and green tea, and be very careful not to burn. 

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