MONDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- More than 40 percent of
indoor tanning facilities doing business in Missouri -- a state
where the practice is unregulated -- say that tanning is totally
risk-free, a new survey reveals, with the vast majority indicating
that their doors are wide open to children as young as 10.
The finding stems from what the researchers say is the largest
poll of its kind to date, and could sound public health alarm
bells, given the wealth of evidence indicating that tanning bed use
significantly boosts the risk for developing skin cancer,
particularly among younger patrons.
"There's considerable evidence to show that at an early age the pigment cells of the skin may be more vulnerable to damage," said study co-author Dr. Lynn Cornelius, chief of dermatology in the department of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, in St Louis. "And they're going to get more of a lifelong exposure, which we also know is related to the risk for skin cancer," she added.
"So the idea that people as young as 10 and 12 are allowed to tan indoors is a scary thing," said Cornelius, also with the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. "It highlights the need for new legislation, and the need to really educate parents to the risks to their kids inherent in tanning."
The findings are published in the March issue of
Roughly 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with a non-melanoma
skin cancer every year, with about 20 percent of the U.S.
population projected to develop skin cancer at some point in their
lives, according to study background information. Among young
people aged 15 to 39, melanoma is now the third most-diagnosed
Many experts cite indoor tanning beds as a critical part of the
problem, with studies showing their use increases the risk for
common non-melanoma skin cancers by upward of 250 percent, and for
melanoma by 75 percent to 300 percent.
Nonetheless, the $5 billion-a-year tanning industry serves 30
million Americans, about 2.3 million of whom are adolescent boys
The World Health Organization specifically recommends that
minors under the age of 18 not use indoor tanning facilities.
In the United States, tanning machines are federally classified
as "Class I" medical devices, the lowest risk designation possible,
on par with items such as tongue depressors and bandages. So there
are no mandatory national performance standards, and the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration is limited to issuing recommended
guidelines. However, the study authors recommend that tanning
devices be reclassified to make them subject to regulatory
California and Vermont have recently implemented under-18
prohibitions, with legislation pending in Maine. New York has
restrictions on indoor tanning for those under 17. And 33 states do
have some type of regulation on the books, ranging from parental
consent requirements to public postings of artificial UV
[ultraviolet radiation] risk, mandatory skin assessments and the
provision of eye protection. But many argue such regulations are
poorly enforced. And 17 states currently have no indoor tanning
Cornelius and her colleagues conducted a phone survey of indoor
tanning operators in Missouri, where indoor tanning is
In 2007, the team trained two medical students to pose as
adolescent tanning customers when calling 243 tanning facilities
throughout the state to inquire about operator protocols.
Among the responses, nearly two-thirds of the facilities said
they would cater to customers as young as 10, while on average 43
percent said that indoor tanning was perfectly safe.
While 40 percent of the operators said that skin cancer is a
risk, 20 percent said that any related risk was eliminated "if the
customer takes precautions." Four in five facilities said that
indoor tanning would actually reduce the risk for getting a
sunburn, while others suggested a range of related "health
benefits." And only about one in five said that a pre-tan skin
assessment was necessary, or that precautionary measures should be
taken, such as applying sunscreen.
"The tanning industry today does not have very high standards for safety," said Dr. Bruce Brod, chair of the American Academy of Dermatology's State Policy Committee. "It's very analogous to the tobacco industry, which used to actually claim that smoking was good for you before it became widely accepted that tobacco is carcinogenic," he explained.
"And even in states with regulations, there are as many tanning salons as there are Starbucks and McDonald's," he added. "So it's almost impossible to monitor compliance. But we do need more laws on the books, because laws raise awareness and send a message to the public that this is really dangerous."
DeAnn Lazovich, an associate professor in the division of
epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota in
"There is confusion about the artificial nature of UV in tanning salons," Lazovich said. "And there's an overwhelming draw to tan skin as a marker of beauty and a sign of health. Especially among adolescent girls and young women, who are the predominant users. So we have to make it clear that any time the skin is exposed to UV, damage is occurring. There is no safe way to tan."
For more on state-by-state tanning regulations, visit the
National Conference of State Legislatures.
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