Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

COLUMNIST: I was a teenaged tanning addict; now I know better

by Jean Guerrero The Los Angeles Times | September 14, 2023 at 3:29 a.m.

Like too many California millennials, I developed a tanning addiction in my teens.

In defiance of my mother, a Puerto Rican physician by way of the National Health Service Corps, I fried my skin throughout my adolescence: in the backyard, on the beach, and in the local tanning salon, which charged me $30 a month for the unlimited privilege of exposing my young body to a tube-filled carcinogenic chamber prior to California's ban on tanning bed use by minors. I repeatedly rolled my eyes at my mother's warnings.

I remember thinking: I guess I'll get skin cancer. Too bad, so sad.

Today, multiple skin cancer scares and mole removals later, I feel sorry for the girl I was, willing to take a big health risk to fit into a cultural beauty standard. Popular TV shows back then, such as "The O.C." and "Laguna Beach," glamorized the sunlit coastal lives of rich white teens. I lived close to the border in Chula Vista, but as a multiracial Latina, I bought into that fantasy. Working on my tan was part of it.

Tanning-bed use has been on the decline for years, but the rise of the anti-sunscreen movement on social media is preying on people's fears about product safety and pushing them to reject sun protection despite medical advice.

Like the anti-vaccine universe, the anti-sunscreen world of fitness coaches, alt-medicine peddlers, "wellness" gurus and misinformed consumers crosses party lines at the paranoid juncture of the far left and far right.

Among influencers in the conservative camp, the medical community's consensus on the importance of applying sunscreen every day is a liberal conspiracy to deprive people of the sun's curative powers and men of testosterone.

Earlier this month, one right-wing influencer on X, formerly Twitter, shared a user's bizarre claim that vitamin D makes people more "right-wing" by boosting their testosterone. "The real reason liberals hate the sun," he wrote.

For right-wing and apolitical manfluencers, slathering on sunscreen is weak. Sunbathing is encouraged.

On the left, the anti-sunscreen voices--self-proclaimed gurus and "independent thinkers" with no credentials--preach that UV radiation isn't carcinogenic, contrary to overwhelming medical evidence. "Did you know that the sun does not cause skin cancer?" said one on TikTok, who argues that sunlight "can actually almost heal almost every ailment in the body."

Who needs an oncologist or a dermatologist when you can get advice from sages like her?

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with 1 in 5 Americans developing it before age 70.

Anxieties about sunscreen aren't entirely irrational. There are two types of sunscreen: physical sunscreens that use minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to shield the skin against UV rays, and chemical sunscreens that convert the radiation into heat.

Research shows chemical ones can be absorbed into the bloodstream. So far, the evidence doesn't suggest that this absorption is harmful. Still, in 2019, the Federal Drug Administration asked for more safety data on a dozen commonly used chemicals, including oxybenzone, which is also thought to be harming coral reefs, leading to a ban on sunscreens that contain it in Hawaii and elsewhere.

But as we try to take better care of our bodies, we should trust real health experts. It took me too long to listen to my mother. Like it or not, your doctor knows best.

Print Headline: I was a teen tanning addict


Sponsor Content