Physician's Advice: Tanning Beds and Young Adults
Today was interesting, I had a 22 year old female patient come see me and she incidentally mentioned that she was using a tanning bed. Now this is a little of a bit of dilemma to a dermatologist. At this age group, if I give unrequested information about the risks of tanning; the patient will typically look at me while dazedly nodding their head in agreement. Inside they are really thinking that this information does not apply to them and why is he lecturing me. If I say nothing then I lose the chance to plant the seed of realization of the most important skin fact of her life. Of course by age 40, they will listen but the damage is already been done by then.
So, the conversation began. Lets hypothetically say her name is Tammy. “How often do you tan?,” I asked. Tammy grudgingly replied, knowing what was probably coming, “Once or twice a week at my tanning salon.” I pondered how I could get through to her and then said, “I would rather you tan at the beach.” She looked at me in disbelief, “you would rather I tan at the beach?” “Yes,” I replied. She asked, “Why?” “Because in the tanning booth you will get a weeks worth of sunlight in 6 minutes, if you go to the beach you may only get a day in.” I discussed that only cream proven to prevent wrinkles is sunscreen. She said, “Oh I use that on my face, I just tan my body.”
My explanation to that was to look at women in their 40’s who have followed that idea. They look like someone pasted their younger looking heads on an older person’s body because the color difference is so dramatic. To go further,” of course you look good with a tan. You have young skin. Young skin is the most beautiful thing you will ever see.” I continued, “ look at a babies skin sometime, no freckles, smooth, perfect.” Kids will often begin their life long enamoration with sunlight because association with independence they experience at the beach for the first time in their lives. Their friends are running around in bikini’s, the boys all have muscles. Compliments are given for perhaps the first time. Romance is in the air. Remember most of your hangups and beliefs about ourselves are created during early teens and adolescence. So is the desire for a tan/compliments/freedom. Well, at least she was wearing sunscreen on her face. I said to her, “I understand why you like to tan, you feel your skin looks better with a tan now, but what about later?” I explained that there is a major change in the body and brain from age 12 to age 22. Not so big of change in the brain from age 22 to 32 but a slight change in the body. Even less change of the brain from age 32 to 42 and a major change in the body. Your brain with all the desires that you have today will be in a 42 year old body someday and you will wish that you did not do the damage that you are doing right now. Please eliminate the tanning bed.
She actually looked at me and honestly thanked me and said she would do her best to not tan. Doctors can often tell when patients are lying, or saying something that they will not do. We learn this through daily experience of advising people and following up with them. I think that I honestly got through to her. This is a rarity for this type of interaction. Usually the patient will never come back because at this age it sounds too much like unasked for parental advice. Of course at some point in their life, they remember that dermatologist that said....