In Pennsylvania, a 16-year-old has a number of privileges often associated with those who are older, including the right to drive a car and to get married (with parental consent). But less than 60 days from now, using a commercial tanning facility will no longer be one of them.
A new bill signed into law this month by Gov. Tom Corbett prohibits teenagers 16 and under from using commercial tanning beds, plus requires 17-year-olds to have written consent from a parent or guardian in order to do so. It also requires tanning facilities to pay a new annual fee per bed, get inspected, register with the state, and even post notifications stating that indoor tanning poses serious health risks.
The new law, coming late in spring as it does, won't affect this year's prom season, but it will certainly affect future ones.
And that's OK with Jim Thorpe sisters Courtney, 17, and Bergen Scheckler, 15, who now both sit on opposite sides of the age-restriction "fence." Neither one says she takes issue with the new law.
"I really don't think anybody should tan, to be honest, because we get enough from the sun," Courtney said.
Bergen added, "I don't think 16 and under should be allowed (to use tanning beds). It'll cause skin cancer and, if you're that young, that's not something you want to even have to worry about."
Statistics confirm her belief. Recent studies have shown drastic increases in melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and second most common cancer in adults under 30. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology says some studies show a 59 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning, with the risk increasing after each use.
A Mayo Clinic study in 2012 places those numbers even higher. Since 1970, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of first-time incidences of melanoma among young women ages 18-39, according to the study.
Fifteen-year-old Makayla Heil, of Palmerton, says she will never use an indoor tanning bed because "it ruins your skin." She refers to them, quite simply, as "gross" and says she has no problem with the new law.
And 27-year-old mother of four Nicole Coolbaugh of Palmerton agrees. She says the new law "is a good idea just because there are so many health risks, like skin cancer."
Coolbaugh does add, however, that she feels 16 is a bit too age-restrictive. She notes that 16-year-olds, in particular, may be trying to get ready for their prom, or other high school dances, and sees no reason to a deny them tanning bed services with parental permission.
But she does note that "some parents take it to the extreme" by allowing children as young as 13 to visit tanning salons.
No underage tanning
That's one thing, however, you won't find at Island Breeze Tanning Salon in Lehighton, says co-owner Jean Reabold who, along with her husband, Earl, has operated their salon along Blakeslee Boulevard in Lehighton for 18 years.
Reabold says she has always turned away younger teens and that, in the case of those in their later teens, has always required parental consent. She adds that parents have thanked her over the years for not allowing their children to enter her facility otherwise.
As for indoor tanning in general, Reabold says it should be fine as long as it is done in moderation and each visit's time limit is enforced. Indeed, the timers for each of her beds are located right by the front desk so that only she, or another qualified attendant, can operate them.
She says the trouble occurs when either a customer, the tanning bed attendant, the tanning facility, or all three, doesn't use proper control.
For example, she says, some businesses with tanning beds may not keep strict enough supervision over their beds' usage, allowing underage teenagers to tan without parental permission or also making it possible for customers to use the bed several times in a single day, resulting in too much exposure.
Keep it brief
Reabold also says many states already have much stricter tanning regulations than Pennsylvania, which currently doesn't even require tanning salon owners to obtain any form of certification.
For her own part, Reabold says she and her husband are, to her knowledge, the only salon owners in the area who hold certifications from the Suntanning Association for Education, the trade association for responsible indoor tanning. She adds that she was even taught such specifics as how tanning lotions containing acrylics are better for the skin than most over-the-counter tanning lotions.
"Every tanning salon owner should (get certified)," she says. "You really learn a lot."
In regard to the new law, does she ever see instances in which it should not apply?
"Yes," says Reabold.
For instance, she once had a 15-year-old customer whose dermatologist specifically sent her to use a tanning bed in order to help cure a severe case of psoriasis on her buttocks, an area outdoor sun exposure wouldn't normally reach.
She says other customers of all ages have also told her their doctors advised indoor tanning for such conditions as arthritis and stress.
Reabold stresses, however, that most indoor tanning sessions should be brief and that tanning outdoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. should be avoided altogether.
And whether tanning indoors or out, Dr. Marie Wagener, a dermatologist with Family Dermatology of the Lehigh Valleyin Schnecksville, recommends, "People who tan should monitor themselves for any new moles and change in size, shape or color of their existing moles. We go by the ABCDEs of mole monitoring: asymmetry, border irregularity, color change, diameter greater than 6 millimeter (the size of the head of a pencil eraser), evolving (changing moles)."
Why tan anyway?
Stephen Lewis, 18, of Palmerton, says he thinks indoor tanning is bad.
Plus, he says, "It bugs me (because) I just don't like how girls always try to falsify their looks. It's like a false advertisement."
After a round of applause from the other half-dozen teenaged young men on a park bench nearby, he adds that, "Natural skin is better than anything."