Can Swedes kick the fake-bake habit?

Can Swedes kick the fake-bake habit?
Finding a cure for Sweden's lack of winter sunlight is a constant challenge. But as contributor Emy Gelb discovers, a trip to the tanning salon may not be as popular as it once was.

There is no doubt that Swedes love the sun. In the summer, Swedes soak up the rays at home, in city parks and quiet islands.

In the winter, Swedes flock to exotic beaches in Thailand and Mallorca to chase a golden glow.

However, the allure of Swedes’ sun-kissed colour is that it usually comes naturally. In a country that doesn’t see too much sun for much of the year, it is alarming that a few weeks enjoying the outdoors can lead alarming increases in skin cancer rates.

Is there another reason behind the spike in cancer rate? Could it be that Swedes still fake and bake?

This past year, quite a controversy stirred up about Sweden’s use of tanning beds. Over half of the country’s municipalities, around 55 percent, have tanning beds available at the public gyms and pools.

Sweden’s Department of Environment and Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has been avidly working to curb solarium use by recommending stronger regulations and limited use.

The Solari Association predicts that the tanning bed industry will take a hard hit financially due to the government pressure. Estimates claims that the industry’s turnover has already fallen by at least 30 percent since last summer.

Peter Bergh, branch manager of Solari Association told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper that “Bankruptcies have begun, and there will only be more.”

So, despite the negative press and bad side effects, are Swedes still tanning? The general consensus seems to say no, that tanning beds are simply out of fashion.

Mareike Nuemann, of The Local’s Style in Sweden blog, says, “Going to the solarium three times a week with the result that the skin tone becomes orange will definitely look cheap.”

Once coveted, tanning beds are now a symbol of poor taste and low self esteem. Swedes are proud of their healthy life styles and their natural, carefree beauty. Thus a trip to solarium is hardly something to brag about.

“I don’t know anyone who goes tanning, or at least who would admit to it,” explains 24-year-old Elisabet Olme.

“I suspect one friend of mine might go, he is always so perfectly bronzed, but he would never, ever tell me. I think maybe teenage girls who don’t know any better still go, and those horrid older, orange ladies, but I myself would never go tanning.”

So if tanning beds are such a faux pas, why do Sweden’s cancer rates keep rising? Are Swedes secretly sneaking into tanning beds? Research suggest that perhaps Swedes may have a hard time shaking the habit of lying down under the lights.

According to Steve Feldman, a professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, tanning beds are not only cancer inducing, but addictive.

The ultra-violet (UV) radiation emitted by tanning beds produces endorphins in the human body which, in effect, gets solarium users high. And addictive behaviour can be hard to break.

The Radiation Safety Authority, therefore, has its work cut out for it when it comes to curbing Swedes’ need to tan. And hopefully, people will finally catch on and realise that frequent trips to the solarium are no alternative for catching rays the natural way, albeit in moderation.

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