How would you like to be cooked?

The specimen is loaded into a closed off room. From there they are ushered onto a contraption made of metal and glass. Lying flat on a glass platform, the lid of the coffin snaps shut upon its victim. Blue ultra-violet bulbs flare on in order to slowly cook the specimen’s skin to the desired shade of golden brown.

While this may sound like a scene from a disturbing and awfully low budget horror film, this kind of self-inflicted baking – otherwise known as tanning – happens all the time. According to nbcnews.com, the number of tanning salons in many towns often exceeds the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s chains.

But why? I understand the appeal of a nice, healthy complexion (even if this is only a result of melanin building up from the enhanced exposure to ultraviolet rays), but this seems like an extreme measure to obtain the desired effect. Instead of encasing themselves in a futuristic-looking pod designed for the sole purpose of burning human flesh, maybe people should try something crazy like going outside for once.

Not only is tanning an irrational and ridiculous method, it is also directly linked to the development of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. The argument is that getting skin cancer due to indoor tanning is very small, but it is still a possibility. People shouldn’t intentionally expose themselves to this risk, even if its very unlikely. If they are one of the small statistic of people who end up with cancer, it could affect the rest of their lives. Indoor tanning salons have also been linked to eye damage, immune suppression and skin aging. That doesn’t sound very healthy to me.

For the people who still want a “warm glow,” there are many other methods of achieving it. For one, there is always the option of natural tanning while outside. If someone wears an acceptable amount of skin-protecting SPF and limits their time in the direct sunlight, this greatly reduces the harmful effects that they could get from indoor tanning. Also, this is a safer way of getting a healthy dose of vitamin D. There are also light boxes, which use broad spectrum light instead of UV rays and could help people who want the feel-good effects of sitting in a tanning bed.

There is still an even better solution: spray on tan. While natural tanning and light boxes still come with some risk, the use of artificial tan has basically no potential harm. The person would simply be dying the outer layer of skin, which is a risk free way that achieves the same look. Pair that with a daily intake of vitamin D-rich foods, and there’s no reason not to leave the tanning bed behind.