Don't Get Burned: The Dangers of Tanning

Brooke Griffin, former captain of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals dance team, used tanning beds for seven years. “When you’re dancing onstage, the lights can wash you out,” she says. “Our costumes are revealing, and many dancers feel that they look better with color.” But Griffin left the tanning bed behind three years ago, after a mole on her back changed in appearance. “My doctor said it was likely due to sun exposure, and he wanted to remove it,” she says. Although Griffin was OK, the scare was a wake-up call to the dangers of tanning.

Developing a tanning habit is extremely risky. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that using tanning beds before you reach age 30 can increase your risk of contracting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent. Plus, The American Academy of Dermatology says the ultraviolet radiation you absorb while tanning, in natural light or in a tanning bed, can cause premature aging of the skin, giving it a wrinkled, leathery appearance. Yikes!

The dangers of tanning are so well-known that even the government is getting involved. Texas passed a law in January stating that teens between 16-and-a-half and 18 years old must have parental permission to tan, and that teens younger than 16-and-a-half are forbidden from using tanning salons at all. The U.S. Senate even considered including a 10 percent tanning tax in its health care overhaul bill.

In spite of the risks, many dancers still feel the need to appear sun-kissed. While we recommend simply loving the skin you’re in, we know that’s not always realistic advice. Instead, we checked in with a few dancers to get their opinions on the best safe, alternative tanning solutions. Read on to learn how you can use spray tans and at-home products to achieve the color you crave.

Tanning like a pro

In 2009, the Cleveland Cavalier Girls’ coach decided that tanning beds, which had been made freely available to the dancers for the past several years, were no longer an option. “My grandmother died of cancer,” coach Jami Taylor says. “I know the destruction cancer of any kind can cause an individual and her family. I want to do anything that I can to help these women look and feel fabulous about themselves. Sunless tans enhance the natural beauty the Cavalier Girls already possess without the worry of adverse effects later in life.”

The team now uses Optima Sun Lab, a company that applies spray tans to all the dancers once a week. The spray tans contain FDA-approved dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical derived from raw sugar cane that reacts with proteins on the outermost layer of skin to produce a golden-brown color. The faux tan takes six to eight hours to set in, and the effect lasts for about a week.

“I love the results!” says Amanda*, a third-year veteran of the team. “It looks just like a real tan; people can’t believe it’s a spray tan.”

Bronzing on a budget

Want that pro glow but afraid you don’t have the dough? Individual spray tans, like Optima Sun Lab sessions, can be expensive ($40 each). But there are plenty of wallet-friendly products available that can help you fake a tan. Mystic Tans, during which you step inside a mist-on booth with a timer, start at around $25 at your local salon. Kate Nasser, an Open Gold Latin Pro/Am competitor, visits a salon in NYC before performances, and she says many of the professional and amateur ballroom dancers she knows rely on similar sunless tanners. “The color is dark, warm and natural-looking,” she says. “You can adjust how dark you want to be, which is the greatest part of being sprayed.” Or try a drugstore bottle tanner for an even cheaper, but still effective, solution.

Because there are so many products with so many smells, colors and dispensers, Griffin suggests experimenting with a variety of sunless tanning methods to get your desired results. The trial-and-error process is a small price to pay to avoid the early wrinkles, saggy skin and, of course, health risks that come with tanning. “You only have one body, and you must take care of it, especially while you’re young,” she says. “You won’t see the damaging effects of what tanning is doing to you until it’s too late.”

*NBA dancers withold their last names to protect their identities.

Latest Posts


Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Jamayla Burse

Catching Up With Christian Burse, Comp Kid Turned Complexions Rising Star

With her nearly limitless facility, well-timed dynamics and incredible control, Christian Burse's future as a dancer was guaranteed to be bright. A student at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, and at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX, Burse has consistently made waves: She won first runner-up for Teen Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2019, received a grant for summer study at Juilliard from the Texas Young Masters program in 2020, and was named a YoungArts finalist for dance in 2021.

So, it wasn't all that surprising when Burse announced that, at just 17 years old, she would be joining Complexions Contemporary Ballet as an apprentice for the company's 2021–22 season.

Dance Spirit caught up with Burse to hear all about her first season with Complexions ahead of the contemporary ballet company's run at the Joyce Theater in NYC this month.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search