They appear on campus and on the beach with the arrival of Spring Quarter. Wearing minimal bodily coverage, they don dark sunglasses and perch on towels or lawn chairs. They bare their skin to the sun as if making a sacrificial offering.
Every year, scores of UCSB students expose themselves to an increased risk of skin cancer in later life by laying in the sun or in tanning beds to achieve a bronzed physique.
“Our society has enforced that being tan is being beautiful. Being tan gives you more confidence in going along with the way society is,” freshman business economics major Caitlin Panasci said.
Panasci visits a tanning bed approximately once a month.
“It’s a really cool atmosphere. It is like taking a 20-minute nap,” Panasci said.
At UCSB, students seeking a darker skin tone can be seen on the beach, on the hill behind the UCen and at the recently opened Carillo Pool.
“A lot of people come here to do their homework and to get a tan,” said sophomore environmental studies major Justin Klein, who works as a pool monitor.
Klein said toasting his skin a golden brown was not an incentive for taking the job.
“I got this job because it is easy. Some of the girls here really like that part of it, though, and I am getting a tan,” he said.
Some people turn to artificial means of tanning, such as tanning beds and tanning creams, over natural sunlight. June Aldecoa, the manager of Tanacious Tanning, located on Embarcadero del Mar, said her salon is a safer way to bronze than baking outside.
“We feel that [going to a tanning bed] is safer because it is a controlled environment that is under FDA regulations. The FDA sets the time limits. We try to watch it so that our clients don’t burn themselves. We teach them smart tanning,” Aldecoa said.
Aldecoa credited the local desire for tan skin with giving Tanacious Tanning a particularly profitable year at its locations throughout Santa Barbara. She also said tanning beds are safer because the strength of their UVB rays, which cause cancer and premature aging, is 5 percent whereas the sun’s strength ranges from 17 to 25 percent.
Despite the smaller amount of UVB rays, experts stress that the process can still harm the skin.
“Every time you get a tan, you damage your skin. I recommend not tanning in beds,” said Dr. Kimberly Hurvitz, who practices dermatology throughout southern California.
The American Skin Cancer Foundation recommends those exposed to sunlight wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor between 15 and 30. Sunscreens with SPFs higher than 30 block only a negligibly higher amount of UVB rays; they may, however, benefit especially photosensitive individuals or cancer patients.
Research has found that sunlight or UV lamps can be beneficial to a person’s mental health, especially if a person suffers from seasonal affective disorder, meaning that a lack of sunlight – whether real or artificially generated – results in depression.
“There’s something in the light the sun gives that makes you feel happy. People like the look it makes them feel like they look better,” Aldecoa said. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘I don’t want to wear shorts because I am so white.'”
Tanning hasn’t always been central to fashion, however. Less than a century ago, tanned skin signified an inferior social position. Because manual laborers obtained a darker skin tone as a result of working in the sun, people of the higher ranks went to great lengths to maintain the paleness of their skin. The clothing of the elite covered most of the body and ladies carried parasols when they ventured from their houses into the sun’s rays.
During the 1920s a tan became a symbol of prestige and affluence. Many attribute the idea of tanned skin being socially desirable to French fashion designer Coco Chanel, who obtained a tan while touring the French Riviera. Soon afterward, swimsuits became more revealing and fashion-conscious ladies were encouraged to spend time in the sun. To have a tan signified the wealth and the spare time needed to vacation in warm and sunny climates.
.Some students who wish to get a tan without exposing their bodies to UV rays find their tan in a bottle.
“I use Coppertone Endless Summer because sometimes there is no sun, I have no way to get to a tanning booth, and to protect against the dangers of skin cancer,” sophomore religious studies major Laura Geissert said.
Still, some people find irony in the dangers that people put themselves through to obtain a bit of color.
“It makes your skin healthier-looking and it makes you look more active, but in the end you’re just going to die [from skin cancer],” Klein said.