The frigid winters left everyone hungry for sun at the college I attended in Chicago. I still remember a friend longing for a tanning studio, preferably just down the hill from the student center. And as it turns out, in a surprising number of college campuses now, that's just the case.
Half of the top 125 U.S. colleges and universities listed in US News and World Report have indoor tanning facilities either on campus or in nearby student-focused housing, according to a study published Tuesday in JAMA Dermatology, a journal of the American Medical Association.
In addition, 14 percent of those colleges allowed students to use campus cash to pay for exposure to the ultraviolet rays of tanning beds. This despite abundant evidence that using tanning beds raises the risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. And teenagers and young adults are especially at risk.
"I think this is one health issue that is not on the map when it comes to college-aged kids," says Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and first author of the study. "It's something that we don't always think of as dangerous as tobacco, but it really is."
Melanoma is the number one cancer in adults 25 to 29 years old, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
"In contrast to most other cancers where the incidence rate has stabilized or declined, the incidence of melanoma continues to increase," Dr. Craig Elmets, chairman of the department of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, tells Shots. Indoor tanning can increase a person's melanoma risk by 75 percent, and research shows almost one-quarter of non-Hispanic white women ages 18 to 35 use a tanning salon.
Researchers completed the survey by searching for "tanning" on college and university websites and calling tanning parlors to ask if they would take campus cash. The callers acted as though they were interested in the college and wanted to know what amenities it had, or as if they were a potential patron of the campus salon.
Colleges in the Midwest and Northeast were much more likely to have indoor tanning on campus and in off-campus housing, not surprisingly. By contrast, schools in the sun-drenched West had no on-campus tanning.
Worrying to Pagoto was the fact that 36 percent of colleges that had off-campus housing with tanning facilities referred students to that housing on their website.
"Tobacco and alcohol are not allowable purchases on many campuses," Pagoto says, "We would encourage colleges to take that one step further and add tanning to that list."
Parents should also add access to tanning beds to their checklist and investigate whether or not money they put on their children's cash card could be used to tan.
Unlike some of the other crazy things you do in college, your risk for skin cancer doesn't go away, says Pagoto. The damage done to your skin in your teenage and college years will stick with you for the rest of your life.