Naturally fair-skinned, 15-year-old Leslie Weir knew that indoor tanning was the easiest and fastest way to attain a radiant tan. In regions such as New Brunswick or Texas, she would be prohibited from using tanning beds. But like many other Ontario youths who are seeking a tanned complexion, Weir visited her tanning salon as often as she liked, since she was 11 years old.
The Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA) and the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) have been campaigning to change just that. They want Ontario to be next on the list to ban indoor tanning for those under the age of 18.
Kathleen Perchaluk, Manager of Public Issues of the CCS, said that skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer for ages 15 to 29.
“We ourselves have been communicating to government that there is a need to ban tanning for those under 18,” said Perchaluk.
“It’s a very important issue for us because indoor tanning does cause skin cancer.”
The rising rates of skin cancer are affecting the Canadian Dermatology Association as heavier demands are placed on dermatologists. The CDA’s Communication Officer, Kristina Murray, says that there are fewer than 650 dermatologists to treat Canada’s population of more than 30 million.
“The number of dermatologists in Canada is decreasing rapidly, as the rate of retirement far outstrips the number of new dermatologists in training,” she said.
The World Health Organization labeled indoor tanning equipment to be carcinogenic to humans. Meanwhile, a poll done by the CCS in 2007 showed that more than 50,000 Ontario youths under 18 have used tanning beds.
Mitchell Jackson, 20-year-old dance instructor of Dance Fusion, says that he started using indoor tanning equipment when he was in grade 10. Since then, he visited tanning salons about 50 times a year.
“I had a friend who always looked glowing and tanned, and I wanted that ‘beach’ look,” said Jackson.
“I was pale and wanted to be tanned.”
Jackson stopped using tanning equipment for about eight months due to the “tanning scare” in 2009, when the World Health Organization moved tanning beds to the “highest risk” category on its carcinogen list.
“Then I started tanning again to build a base tan for the summer,” said Jackson.
Ashraf Eleish, President of Bellair Tanning Salons, says that a tanning bed is a safer choice than tanning outdoors because of its controlled environment.
“The Canadian Dermatology Association has an agenda, too. Their agenda is to push SPF, which is a billion dollar industry. They work closely with SPF,” said Eleish.
“If people get a base tan, they’ll need less sun block, and they don’t want that happening. The more people they scare, the more they’ll use SPF.”
Eleish says only about 10 per cent of his clients are under the age of 18 and usually visit with their parents. At Bellair, everyone has to fill out a form that provides the client’s birth date, skin type and medical conditions. Sometimes, they check ID’s.
“We usually ask for parental consent if they are under 16 years of age,” said Eleish.
Bellair clients have the alternative option of UV-free spray tanning and are often reminded to tan in moderation.
“I believe overexposure and sunburns cause skin cancer, but not tanning beds themselves,” said Eleish. “Some people tend to abuse it, but that is out of our control.”
Cosmetic dermatologist Martie Gidon of the CDA says she hears common misconception among teens about indoor tanning. Some think that tanning beds are a good source of Vitamin D and that it treats depression in the winter, but this is not true, she says.
“The seasonal defective disorder only happens to a very small minority of people,” said Gidon. “They do feel better under different lights, but doctors would recommend buying lamps that have special lights to give a glow in a room, not indoor tanning.”
Gidon says that indoor tanning does more to your skin than just change its color. Along with its health-related consequences, the radiation from tanning bulbs makes skin age quicker.
“What UVA does is it penetrates into the skin, deeper than UVB. UVA destroys collagen and elastin in the skin, which is what gives skin a structure,” said Gidon.
“When collagen and elastin are damaged, skin will thin out and develop lines, wrinkles, and develop a yellowy chicken-skin kind of look. It also increases in pigmentation and that’s why you get freckles, brown spots, liver spots and age spots.”
Perchaluk says that it is important to look to other jurisdictions that have already been put into place. Laws have been implemented in regions such as New Brunswick, Scotland, France and Germany. People under 18 are prohibited from indoor tanning equipments.
“It’s important for the youth to be protected,” said Perchaluk.
“There seems to be a lot of ads targeted towards those ages 18 and under.”
“Any sort of campaign, you’re going to target the teenagers because they’re going to be the ones doing the activity. You want to stop them before they start the habit,” said Gidon.
CDA’s Sun Awareness Program, “Indoor tanning is Out” campaign runs from Feb. 1, 2010, to June, 2010. Posters and public service announcements on television and radio are being used to get the message out. The campaign is targeted at young women, because they are statistically the people most likely to go indoor tanning.
“All five young women that are featured in the posters are real melanoma survivors and former indoor tanners,” said Murray.
The Canadian Cancer Society has been running an online writing campaign called ‘Save Our Skin’ for three years now. People who are interested can enter on their website to send a letter to the government.
Jackson says that he was not mature enough to realize the consequences of his actions when he first started tanning. He agrees that children under the age of 18 should be banned from tanning beds.
“Teenagers are always trying to fit in with society and sadly, they're influenced by celebrities with that fake-and-bake look,” said Jackson.
“This  is an age where you can start thinking for yourself and not have your friends influencing your actions.”
Some think otherwise; that putting a ban on something may encourage minors to do it more.
“I think there should be rules, but it should be more reasonable. Either minors should be allowed with parental consent or the age limit should be lowered to 16, not 18,” said Eleish.
Banning indoor tanning for those under 18 may stop teens from paying for Bellair’s services, but will it stop teens from damaging their skin elsewhere?
“Not all salons will abide by it. If I turn them down here, they will go down the street somewhere else,” Eleish said.
“People could spend hours tanning outside. What difference does it make? You can’t regulate that.”