Iowa City Stories

May 6, 2010

Ultraviolet Exposure

Filed under: IC Stories: Huff, Tanning — Aubrey @ 6:57 pm

With temperatures improving as summer approaches, people are spending more and more time outdoors. This leads to an increased risk of skin damage, like burns, tans and cancer.

Few people seek shade when the sun is out.

The sun is at its most powerful in the summer months, and its rays are most damaging between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

UV Rays

There are three different kinds of Ultraviolet, or UV rays.

  • UVA rays: These are the rays that cause people to tan. UVA rays penetrate into the lower layers of the epidermis. This triggers melanocytes to produce melanin, or the brown pigment that causes a tan.
  • UVB rays: These are the rays that burn the upper layer of the epidermis, causing sunburn.
  • UVC rays: These are the most dangerous of the sun’s rays. Fortunately, these rays are blocked by the ozone layer and do not reach Earth.

Sun Exposure

People spend more time outdoors when the weather is warm, and few people wear sunscreen when out. In fact, people are exposed to the most sun while doing everyday activities, not at the beach.

Younger people are increasingly exposed to the sun’s harmful rays without protection. Adolescents take less care applying sunscreen while outdoors.

“I wear sunscreen when I go to the pool or the beach for an extended period of time, but playing sports outside or at a barbeque, I never bother,” said Timothy Riphagen, 20.

In fact, 50-80% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18.


It is a common misconception that a tan is better for your skin than sunburn. On the contrary, a sunburn shows that your skin is fighting the damage of the sun’s rays. A tan is visual proof that your skin has cellular damage

Despite the risks, the popularity of tanning is growing. Thirty million people tan indoors in the U.S. annually; 2.3 million of those people are adolescents.

In a recent poll by Teenshealth, 80% of people under age 25 think they look better with a tan.

“Most people who tan with us are college students between the ages of 18 and 24,” said Scott Bender, manager of Planet Beach Tanning Spa.

Tanning, however, increases the risk of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer

Mole in the early stages of melanoma

There are several different types of skin cancer.

  • Basal cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for over 90% of all skin cancer diagnoses in the U.S. Though it is rare for this type of skin cancer to spread, it can grow, invade and damage surrounding tissue.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: This cancer occurs in the squamous cells, which are scaly and fish-like. Since squamous cells are found on the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow body organs and in digestive and respiratory tracts, squamous cell carcinoma can actually occur on any of those parts of the body. It is only 25% as common as basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma can metasticize, or spread, to other parts of the body.
  • Melanoma: This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Melanoma is the leading cause of death due to skin disease. It can spread very rapidly, but risk greatly decreases if it is caught early.

More than 1 million new cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. In the past, melanoma mostly affected people in their mid- to late-fifties. However, the number of melanoma diagnoses of people in their teens and 20s is increasing.

The most common treatment for skin cancer is exision. This involves completely cutting the tumors and cancerous tissue out. Exisions performed to remove melanoma often leave large scars.

Some people are more at risk for skin cancer than others. People with any of the following should be especially aware of their sun exposure and take measures to avoid skin cancer.

  • People with fair skin, meaning they have less than melanin than darker skin, have a greater risk for skin cancer because they have less of that protective layer. People who have naturally light hair, eyes or who freckle easily are also at greater risk.
  • Excessive sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer. Even if you were a “sun worshipper” when you were and now practice “safe sun,” there is still risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer can take years, even decades, to develop.
  • If you have many moles, regular or irregular, you have an increased risk of skin cancer.
  • If your family has a history of skin cancer, you are at an increased risk. Some families suffer from Familial Atypical Mole-Malignant Melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome. This puts you at increased risk of developing melanoma. Frequent screenings for the disease are a necessity.
  • If you have had skin cancer in the past, it is more likely you will develop it again, often within two or three years of the original diagnosis.
  • A weakened immune system also increases the risk of skin cancer. People living with leukemia, HIV/AIDS or people taking immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant are at increased risk.

Protecting Yourself

Skin cancer is actually the easiest of all cancers to prevent.

To protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, it is vital to wear sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher at all times. This should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow time for it to be absorbed.

Wear protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses and darker clothes while outdoors.

Check your body for abnormal moles frequently. If you notice anything irregular, visit a dermatologist as soon as possible.

“I do look at moles sometimes and wonder if that was always there,” Riphagen said.

Ultraviolet Benefits

Ultraviolet rays do not have to be all bad. UV rays provide the body with vitamin D, which boosts the immune system and prevents some cancers.

“[Vitamin D] decreases the risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer,” said Bender.

Contrary to popular believe, however, prolonged exposure to the sun is not necessary to absorb your daily dose of D. Fifteen minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun provides you with all the vitamin D you need.

Still, it is unwise to spend too much time outside without sun block. You can also receive this vitamin from fish, milk and eggs, or even a daily supplement.

It is suggested that UV rays can help with other illnesses, as well.

“I have a 68-year-old man who tans here to control his psoriasis. Sometimes doctors even recommend it to treat women with seasonal depression,” said Bender. “It’s interesting to see that something can cause one type of problem and possibly remedy another.”

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, UVB rays are more effective at treating the disease. UVB rays are minimized at tanning salons, so sunlight is the best choice.


Colts vs. Cancer: Mitch’s Fight

Filed under: IC Stories: Huff, Tanning — Aubrey @ 5:18 pm

Stolberg practicing a Colts routine

Mitchell Stolberg, a 19-year-old secondary education English major, spent the past four years pursuing his passion as a member of the color guard in the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps. He had no idea that his love could threaten his life.

Stolberg was diagnosed with skin cancer mid-season his third year in color guard.

Colts Drum and Bugle Corps, fondly referred to as “Colts” by Stolberg, is a travelling team consisting of a hornline, drumline, full-front ensemble and color guard. From March 28th to August 15, Colts compete all over the country with other drumlines.

Competing at a national level demands almost constant rehearsal.

“We rehearse almost every day, outdoors, in the sun from as early as 7 a.m. to as late as 1 a.m.,” Stolberg said.

It was mid-June of the 2009 summer season for the Colts when Stolberg noticed a mole on his left cheek.

“It started to get this weird ring around it, a ring of pink. Then around the pink was a ring of white,” Stolberg said.

Despite its odd appearance, Stolberg thought nothing of the mole and continued with his rigorous rehearsals. By early July, Stolberg was still ignoring the mole, as it was not bothering him.

“I didn’t think of it until I started having problems with my right shoulder,” Stolberg said.

After a night rehearsal, Stolberg felt like his shoulder was “on fire,” so the next day, while in Omaha, NB, Stolberg went to the emergency room.

Stolberg called his mother, Wendy, to let her know he was seeking medical treatment, and since he mentioned the mole to her earlier, she insisted he have his mole looked at as well.
After his shoulder pain was diagnosed as subluxation, or loss of the muscle that was keeping his shoulder in place, the doctor looked at Stolberg’s mole.

“He said it looked pretty bad,” Stolberg recalls, and the doctor said he needed to send a piece of it to get tested.

On July 20, Stolberg finally got the test results. The Colts were now in San Antonio, TX.

“I came in from day rehearsals and the tour director took me into a back room and told me the doctor called. The tests were positive for cancer,” Stolberg said.

Stolberg’s mother was notified before he was. When he called his mother, it was a very emotional experience, especially since Stolberg’s parents were states away.

The doctor, tour director and Stolberg’s parents agreed that he needed to leave the Colts tour, return home and seek treatment. Stolberg was devastated.

“I had spent…going on four years of my life with these people. I didn’t care what was going on with my body. I didn’t want to leave them,” Stolberg recalls.

Since the Colts regional competition was only two days away, Stolberg decided to perform and fly home to North Dakota, where his parents lived, immediately after.

The days leading up to regionals were especially difficult for Stolberg because of his condition. He dealt with this stress almost solitarily since so few knew about his test results.

“I didn’t tell anyone else in the corps except for three of my friends and my section coordinator, Carla,” Stolberg said.

He wanted to keep the news quiet since the competition was already causing so much stress to his teammates.

On the day of regionals, Stolberg was very emotional. Not knowing the severity of the cancer, he prepared for the worst.

“I kept thinking this could be my last show with drum corps,” Stolberg said, but that did not stop him from giving a great performance.

“I had an absolutely amazing show,” said Stolberg. “I cried afterwards. I thought I could be too sick to perform again.”

After the regionals, the corps got together to discuss their performance. After getting feedback, Mitch stood to tell his team he was leaving.

“’I’m going home.’ That’s all I said, and everyone’s mouth just dropped open because I’m not one to ever give up color guard. [It] is my life,” Stolberg said.

He then told his team about the cancer, and the next day, after many tears and hugs, Stolberg packed and left for home.

“When Mitch called to tell me he had cancer last summer I didn’t believe him at first. It just didn’t seem real. Cancer isn’t for people you know about, it’s for people in stories, or on tv. You never expect it to happen to your best friend,” Katherine Nicla, 21, said. Nicla has been a close friend of Stolberg for years.

Once home to Fargo, ND, Stolberg and his parents set up appointments with dermatology clinics, so he could get the cancer removed. During the procedure, the whole left side of Stolberg’s face was numbed, and the doctors cut out “everything suspicious-looking.” They cut out all cancerous cells and sent them to the Mayo Clinic for further testing.

Stolberg was home for two weeks waiting for the results, but his mind was not on his cancer.

“I was ready just to get back on tour,” Stolberg said.

Stolberg's irregular mole

Finally, in August, Stolberg received some results. The initial results indicated that the cancer was contained to his left cheek, but the results were still considered “undetermined” and needed further testing.

Despite awaiting further results, Stolberg left for Boston, MA to rejoin the Colts’ tour.

“It was a huge relief to be back with my Colts family,” Stolberg said.

Stolberg, though concerned he might still have cancer, pushed the thoughts from his mind and prepared for the national finals.

On the way to the gate to perform the second-to-last time for the season, Stolberg’s phone rang. It was the doctor. Stolberg was informed that he had early-stage melanoma. Fortunately, since it was caught early, the cancer was contained to his cheek, and Stolberg was told that it should not appear anymore.

Stolberg was overjoyed and immediately told his team.

“Then we went in and had a kick-ass quarter-finals performance,” Stolberg said.

Though Stolberg no longer has cancer, he is now very conscious of covering his skin while outside. He frequently reapplies sunscreen and checks his body for moles. Despite his brush with cancer due to prolonged sun exposure, Stolberg has no intention of leaving Colts.

“I just need to have a giant, multi-colored sombrero on during rehearsals now.”

A History of the Tan

Filed under: IC Stories: Huff, Tanning — Aubrey @ 4:54 pm

Tanning was not always as popular as it is today. Throughout history, tanning has gone from wildly unpopular or medicinal to a sign of wealth and everywhere in between.

4th and 5th Centuries B.C.

During this time, tan skin was a sign of health. Also, sun and air were key elements of Hippocrates’ theories.


Tanning has not been in style for centuries. It was seen as a sign of poverty, as only the poor had to spend their days toiling in the fields.

Delicate, porcelain skin was “in.” People would even use make-up to make their skin appear lighter, much like “Goths” today. Arsenic was a popular skin whitener.

Tanning did exist during this time, however. It was practiced sparingly and for medical purposes. It was believed that “sunbaths” could cure anything from tuberculosis to aggressive eczema.


In 1903, Dr. Auguste Rollier opened the world’s first sun clinic in the Swiss Alps. The clinic treated diseases by gradually introducing patients to the sun, by first starting them with bed rest. Then, they were exposed to the mountain air. Finally, they were allowed brief sunbaths.


It was not until the 1920s that tanning gained popularity. Coco Chanel is largely credited for starting the tan craze in 1923 when she returned from a vacation in the French Riviera deeply bronzed.

Also during this time, poor workers left the fields for sunless factories and mines. Now, tan skin was a sign of wealth and leisure.

Still in the 20s, the health benefits of sun exposure turned tanning into a health craze in Britain.

“I think there still are health benefits, but there are risks too. People emphasize the bad more than the good,” said Courtney Steffen, an employee at Planet Beach Tanning Spa.


Nudists were the first to tan themselves out of pleasure rather than medical necessity. In fact, the term “sunbather” originally meant “nudist.” In 1931, a number of nudist clubs opened, and nudity became standard beachwear.


The first bikinis emerged in the 1950s, making an all-over tan more popular. Brown creams and skin dyes also entered the market to help people fake an all-over tan.


Tanning was still very popular, as the danger of tanning were not yet prominent concerns.

“When I was in high school and into my 20s, tanning was a big deal. You would use suntan lotions to get a tan. The products would brag about how quickly and darkly you would tan using them. There was no SPF stuff. We would also lie on foil blankets and use baby oil so that we would burn and tan quicker. I cannot tell you how many sunburns I have had, many of them on purpose,” said Cheryl Huff, 48.

In 1979, the FDA confirmed that sunscreen could protect against skin cancer and developed a rating system for SPFs.

1980s and 90s

Tanning salons and studios emerged. These studios have gained in popularity, and indoor tanning is now a $2 billion industry in the U.S.

In 1985, the American Academy of Dermatology became the first medical group to expose the risks of skin cancer and start an anti-tanning campaign.

By the 90s, tanning salons had the technology to significantly cut down on tanning time. Also, spray tanning was greatly improved and popular with those who did not want to expose themselves to ultraviolet light.


Today about 24,000 tanning salons can be found in the Yellow Pages, and despite the known risks, the popularity of tanning continues to grow.

Tanning salons are more strictly regulated now, however.

“Anyone under 18 teens their parents present to give written consent,” Steffen said.

Warnings are also posted in each tanning booth.

The government even regulates how often a person can tan in a salon. In Iowa, there must be a minimum of 24 hours between each tanning session.

“I still feel like I look better with a tan. It’s hard to get rid of something you have believed for so long,” Huff said.

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