Dare to Ask: Shedding light on suntan fans
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do some white people get tans?
Dorothy, black, Jacksonville
It seems to slim and even out skin tone. Have you ever noticed how much nicer
a black woman's legs are in comparison to many white women's?
Joy, 25, white, Minneapolis
I think you look better tan than to be a sickly white color.
Aimee, 51, white, Jacksonville
A swarthy complexion makes makeup, clothing and appearance overall look
better. Notice how the tanner your skin as a white person is, the more
confidence you have and the more appealing you look to others, especially the
Alicia, Roanoke, Va.
I'd think between the warnings regarding skin cancer and that horrible
leathery look that older women have, that white folks would have enough sense to
minimize their exposure to the sun, but apparently they don't. Tan on . . .
Rhonda, 46, black, N.Y.
Blah blah blah pale skin was a sign of being upper-crust until the 20th
century blah blah blah Josephine Baker and Coco Chanel popularized caramel skin
and helped spur a more tanned look in the 1920s blah blah blah bronze skin began
symbolizing a life of leisure in the '70s blah blah blah these days white people
want to co-opt all things black blah blah blah . . .
Beyond that superb summary of all things to be known about this subject, what
are even more things to be known about why people want to soak up sun rays?
Dermatologist Ali Hendi of Mayo Clinic Jacksonville shined yet more light:
- Some folks can't get over the notion that darker skin looks healthier.
- They may be vain and pursue it despite the risks and research about harmful
effects of too much ultraviolet action.
- Some might actually get addicted to tanning, because there's evidence
indicating it might cause chemical changes in the brain and release endorphins.
The odd thing is, people can get much of the sun's benefits without purposely
lying in the sun for hours, research shows. They can manufacture vitamin D from
indirect rays sponged up during the normal outdoor activities we all do, like
driving at 100 mph with our arms dangling out the windows of large SUVs, or
taunting unfairly stigmatized pit bulls, or stealing copper wiring from AC
units, etc. OK, we exaggerated the normal activities - no one drives large SUVs
anymore - but you get the idea.
And, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, people can take vitamin
supplements if need be.
Overall, the downsides to being a sungod or goddess still outweigh any
pluses, Hendi added.
"It's a cumulative damage over years that causes cancer and skin aging . . .
the results aren't seen in 20- and 30-year-olds, but usually in our 40s to 60s
"That [premature wrinkles] scares women more than the risk of skin cancer -
which I would say is unfortunate."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his