PARIS — More than 50 students at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School have signed up to avoid tanning booths as they approach the junior-senior prom May 3.

The pledges are part of a melanoma prevention program spearheaded by science teacher Chuck Martin.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and is most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds, according to www.skincancer.org.

Martin, who had a bout of melanoma, developed the program to target the disease and the risks from tanning beds and sunburns. He received a $4,000 Faculty Aspirations Grant from the Oxford Hills School District for the program.

“It’s something I wanted to do for the community,” he said.

“The bottom line is they’re still tanning,” Martin said of students as young as sixth-graders.

On April 2, he kicked off the program with a presentation to juniors and seniors highlighted by a talk on the dangers of tanning by Wendy Bernier. Bernier, whose daughter attends the high school, has been in remission for seven years after being treated for a melanoma tumor.

She gave statistics about the use of tanning beds and the link to skin cancer, risk factors and her journey going through skin cancer treatment, Martin said.

“It was really quite an eye-opener,” he said. “We had the kids’ attention.”

The program continues this month with activities, including an information bulletin board with heat index readings at Oxford Hills middle and high schools, updating the district coaches’ handbook to include a section on skin cancer awareness and sunscreen use and providing a screening day for staff members by a licensed dermatologist.

The grant also has been used to give a Skinny on Skin Program to educate hair stylists and massage therapists on how to identify suspicious areas on the scalp and body. There will also be a public service announcement during May, Melanoma Awareness Month, using community members who have experienced melanoma or have family members who have.

“The message is: Be happy with your skin type,” Martin said. “You’re skin is in.”

“Our mission is protecting people from overexposure,” said Neil Sampson, owner of Ocean Breeze Tanning Salon in Paris.

Moderation is the key to using a tanning bed successfully, he said.

He met with Martin to discuss their mutual desire to protect people from the harmful effects of UV rays but still disagree on the safety of using tanning beds.

“Moderation, moderation, moderation. Never, never burn,” Sampson said. He believes most of his clients are in their 30s and 40s but said there are a “few” high school students who use his facility.

Sampson said clients build up their base tans over a period of time.

Although the business has a sunless tanning spray booth, he said most clients still prefer the tanning beds.

“I’m finding that people really love the ultraviolet light because they get a base tan, they like heat, and what it does for their moods,” he said.

But Martin said he simply can’t agree that tanning beds or other methods of tanning using UV rays are good.

His message is simple: “No tan is good.”

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