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What’s a summer tan really worth?

I told myself I would never do it again. My aunt said I would get cancer from it. My mom said it was pure vanity. My best friend said it was expensive. I knew they all were right.

But then I went shopping for spring dresses at Forever 21 and suddenly became aware of my Irish, painfully-pale, pasty skin. Frustrated, I decided to buy a spring hoodie instead.

As I was waiting in line to pay, I glanced at the price tag: $25, the same price as a month of unlimited tanning.

Oh, did I not mention I’m the queen of coming up for excuses for everything? Well … I am.

So I decided I didn’t need the crummy hoodie anyway, and with the knowledge I was saving $25, it at least made sense to put it to better use (duh, tanning). 

Or, at least that was what my messed-up mentality dictated.

Indoor tanning offers many benefits to people who’d like their skin to be darker. By lying in a tanning bed for a set number of minutes, they are able to get color quickly. However, research shows there is a link between indoor tanning and skin cancer. For those who still would like to look tan but fear indoor tanning, there are alternatives, including self-tanners and natural tanning using sunscreen.

I recently talked to Jackie Marganski, 19, who works at The Ultimate Tan in Champaign, Ill. She has tanned once a week during the winter and spring since she was a sophomore in high school and believes it to be safe, if used correctly.

“Indoor tanning is in a controlled environment,” she said. “If you go tanning outside, you won’t know how much sun you will get and have a greater chance of getting burned.”

Marganski added that indoor tanning avoids tan lines and is a big time saver.

So true. Since I began indoor tanning a week ago, I haven’t burned once. On the other hand, whenever I lay out during the summer, I usually end up resembling a lobster or some other red-shelled crustacean.

However, Marganski acknowledged that there is a link to cancer.

“Skin cancer is definitely a health risk,” she said. “However, if you take the proper steps to avoid burning in the bed, you’re a lot safer tanning indoors (than outside).”

Marganski said her salon offers lotions for customers that will help block potentially harmful UV rays.

So I was feeling a little bit better about tanning the “safe” way until I gave Dr. Moira Ariano, a dermatologist from my hometown of Wheaton, Ill., a call to find out her spin on tanning.

Ariano said most tanning salons use UVA rays, which were believed to be safe in the past. However, she said recent research indicates this is no longer the case.

“Tanning parlors say they have safe rays, but we’re finding that they aren’t as safe as we thought,” she said. “UVA rays go deeper into the dermis than even UVB rays.”

UVA rays also are linked to skin cancer, especially melanoma, its deadliest type. According to the International Journal of Cancer, using indoor tanning beds before age 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. In addition, the National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer in 2008, with 62,480 of those being melanoma.

Then Dr. Ariano threw another curve ball at me: Tanning causes wrinkling and early aging.

“UV rays go deeper into the dermis, which has collagen,” Ariano said. “Collagen destroyed by UV rays causes more wrinkling.”

Even better. If I keep on tanning, I’ll look like an old, shriveled raisin by the time I’m 30 (or even worse, by the time I graduate).

Even my male friends, who I had assumed would dig tan girls, were not encouraging.

“Fake tanning is cheating basically,” said Vince Versaci, 21. “If steroids are such a scandal in baseball, why should tanning be any different?”

Easy for him to say. With a last name like Versaci, he’s tan year-round without even trying.

“I don’t get why girls do it,” said another friend, Ryan Miller, 20. “It’s like paying for cancer.”

There are ways to get a tan without visiting a tanning salon: self-tanner.

Katie Castree, 20, uses self-tanner and refuses to go to a tanning salon because of its health risks.

“I don’t look as dark as people who go to tanning beds, but it works well enough for me,” Castree said. “Plus, it’s cheaper than indoor tanning, and it takes less time.”        

I, on the other hand, am a little bit more skeptical. I’ve used self-tanner a few times, and I always end up greasy, smelly and splotchy.

Outdoor tanning is another option, although to do so safely one must wear a sunscreen of at least a 15 SPF, if not higher. However, this may prevent getting the quick tan an indoor salon can provide.

After learning both sides of the issue and alternatives to indoor tanning, I went tanning one more time to see how I felt. When I arrived, the girl working behind the desk was in a flustered panic. She told me a girl had been in a bed for more than 33 minutes and wasn’t responding to her knocks on the door. She said she feared the girl may have passed out, perhaps from dehydration, but added that situations like this are rare.

That did it for me. I wished the girl good luck, and left the salon. $25? Cancer? Early aging? Passing out? No thanks, I’d rather be pale.

Now I’m kind of wishing I had bought that hoodie…

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