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Young women link tans with attractiveness

LAWRENCEVILLE - The allure of looking tan, even in winter, has continued despite research linking tanning beds with skin cancer.

"Beautiful girls are usually tan and I want to look like them," said 17-year-old Kayla Yale of Suwanee. "They have a lot of influence over how I think."

Although Duluth dermatologist, Gabrielle Sabini, has not seen an increase in tanning bed use in her 11 years as a doctor, she hasn't seen a decline, either. Being tan has long been a trend society has embraced, she said, but it has a price.

"I've had a 17-year-old with melanoma (skin cancer) and a 12-year-old that was about as close to skin cancer as you can be," Sabini said. "You have to surgically remove (the cancer) and you have a pretty large scar."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet some youths are more concerned with appearances.

Yale said appearances are important at the competitive cheerleading gym where she trains.

"We tend to try to look tan because it makes us look better on the stage," Yale said. "I've heard some people have gotten cancer but it's not like anyone I've ever known."

Various alternatives to tanning have sprouted up ranging from a variety of self-tanning lotions to professionally applied sprays, but Sabini doesn't even support sunless tanning because she said she thinks people should love the skin they're in.

"People think they look better tan but it's all marketing," Sabini said. "People look better the color skin they're supposed to be. Try to accept the color you are."

However, when catalogs and fashion magazines perpetually feature tan individuals, the message may be drowned out.

Recent studies show women place more emphasis on tanning than their own health. In one of the two studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia, researchers found that women expressed intentions to cease tanning only when they focused their concerns on death. However, interest in tanning increased when women were exposed to media images of tanned individuals. This study, titled "A Time to Tan," will be published in an upcoming issue of "Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin."

Jamie Schachter said in his three years of management at Hollywood Tan in Lawrenceville his clients have ranged in age from 18 to 45 and have been 80 percent women. He said his customers generally think being darker is more beautiful.

"I think a lot of people feel that pasty white skin equates with unhealthiness, which has a lot of validity," Schachter said. A lot of his clients are in an office setting all day and get "cabin fever," he said.

Holly Humphries, an 18-year-old who cheers with Yale also said looking tan is important.

"I guess I'm a little worried about the future, but I'm not concerned enough to never go out in the sun," Humphries said.

Jamie Parish, owner of the competitive cheerleading gym, Georgia All-Stars, said while they don't encourage their cheerleaders to go to tanning beds, they do emphasize looking tan.

"We ask them to get sprayed (with sunless tanner)," he said. "Part of being a cheerleader is appearance and tan is more attractive."