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Tanning: Not that cool

By most estimates, skin cancer has increased dramatically during the last 20 years. Now, researchers have discovered people who utilize tanning beds have a higher risk of skin cancer. In 2009, 800,000 cases of skin cancer were diagnosed in America.

For centuries, pale or white skin was preferred. Pale skin imparted your social class and financial status because laborers had little protection from the sun as they worked the fields or tended animals. The nobles that ruled the working class remained pale as they had little exposure to the sun. In fact, women often used lead paint and chalk to whiten their skin at the risk of slow lead poisoning. Later, women used arsenic to lighten their skin with sometimes fatal results. Women painted thin blue lines on their foreheads to suggest the translucence of their skin. Women of the era frequently employed parasols or masks to maintain their alabaster skin.

Not surprisingly, the preference for pale skin was exported to America. When southern belles ventured out, their parasol went with them and northern high society debutants did the same. As women's fashions were rapidly changing and becoming more revealing, an accidental sunburn changed everything.

Coco Channel was an influential, French fashion designer in the 1920's and when she returned from a Paris to Cannes cruise, she was darkly tanned and that accidental tan created a new preference for tanning. Just as the nobles pale skin offered them a preferred status over the working classes, tanned skin now became the symbol of wealth, style and health. A winter tan meant you had the resources necessary to go to a sunny climate even during winter. Sun bathing became popular as a means of relaxing and socializing.

It wasn't until 1979 that concerns about tanning were raised. The results of the research at that time concluded "there is no safe tan." If the thought of getting skin cancer doesn't alarm you, over exposure to the sun will give you lots of wrinkles, more than is normal for your age. It will give you unsightly brown age spots and will make your skin sag. In light of all the risks associated with excessive sun exposure, perhaps it will become fashionable again to have pale skin. I hope so; it should put me at the height of fashion. Remember all kids count.

Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at hurlburt@wildblue.net

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