April 30, 2007
For some high school students, the past few weeks have
involved getting ready for prom. Still others have been
getting ready for summer.
Whatever the reason, students around the country have been
"working on their tans" (whether or not there has been any
"A recent study of more than 10,000 teens across the US
found that tanning bed use was increasing, especially among
adolescent girls. This does not bode well for the health
of the nation. In 1994, a Swedish study found that women
18-30 years old who visited tanning parlors 10 times or
more a year had seven times greater incidence of melanoma
than women who did not use tanning salons. ... And in 2002,
a study from Dartmouth Medical School found that tanning
device users had 2.5 times the risk of squamous cell
carcinoma and 1.5 times the risk of basal cell carcinoma .
And yet, even with all this evidence, the tanning salons
Those who are tempted to try a tanning salon because they
live in a place that doesn't get that much sun form much of
the year, think they look better with a tan, or think that
tanning salons are safer might want to consider the long
term effects of tanning bed use.
"Tempted to try a tanning salon? Maybe you've heard that
sunbeds only use 'safe' UVA light, avoiding the UVB light
that causes burning. But unfortunately it's not that
simple. UVA rays can cause just as much -- if not more --
damage than UVB rays because they penetrate the skin more
deeply. In fact, doctors say that the use of tanning salons
is one reason they're treating more young patients for skin
cancer. ... The sun's rays contain two types of ultraviolet
radiation that affect your skin: UVA and UVB. UVB radiation
burns the upper layers of skin (the epidermis), causing
sunburns. UVA radiation penetrates to the lower layers of
the epidermis, where it triggers cells called melanocytes
(pronounced: mel-eh-no-sites) to produce melanin. Melanin
is the brown pigment that causes tanning. Both UVA and UVB
rays contribute to skin aging. Both types also can cause
potentially cancerous changes in your cells' DNA. And,
according to a recent study, radiation from just 10
indoor-tanning sessions in 2 weeks can suppress a person's
cancer-fighting immune system. Although tanning beds use
UVA light, the concentration of UVA rays from a tanning bed
is greater than that from the sun. And, despite
manufacturer claims, some tanning lamps do also emit UVB
light. So if you try indoor tanning, you'll absorb far more
rays in the long run, significantly age your skin, and put
yourself at even greater risk for skin cancer."
What about all the claims from tanning salons stating that
they are safe?
"The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC) share responsibilities in the
regulation of sunlamps and tanning devices. The FDA
enforces regulations that deal with labels on the devices;
the FTC investigates false, misleading, and deceptive
advertising claims about the devices."
The Federal Trade Commission found several "false,
misleading, and deceptive advertising claims" that caused
them to issue a Consumer Alert. A few highlights of that
"FTC Consumer Alert
....Ads that claim indoor tanning devices are a safe
alternative to outdoor tanning may be false. ... Here are
some claims commonly made about indoor tanning --- and the
'You can achieve a deep year-round tan with gentle,
comfortable, and safe UVA light.'
"Ultraviolet light is divided into two wavelength bands.
Shortwave ultraviolet rays called UVB can burn the outer
layer of skin. Longwave ultraviolet rays called UVA
penetrate more deeply and can weaken the skin’s inner
connective tissue. Long-term exposure to the sun and to
artificial sources of ultraviolet light contributes to the
risk of developing skin cancer. Two types of skin cancer,
basal cell and squamous cell, are treatable if detected
early. Melanoma, another type of skin cancer, can be fatal.
'No harsh glare, so no goggles or eye shades are
"Studies show that too much exposure to ultraviolet rays,
including UVA rays, can damage the retina. Overexposure can
burn the cornea, and repeated exposure over many years can
change the structure of the lens so that it begins to
cloud, forming a cataract. Left untreated, cataracts can
'Tan year round without the harmful side effects often
associated with natural sunlight.'
"Exposure to tanning salon rays increases the damage caused
by sunlight. This occurs because ultraviolet light actually
thins the skin, making it less able to heal. Unprotected
exposure to utltraviolet rays also results in premature
skin aging. A tan is damaged skin that is more likely to
wrinkle and sag than skin that hasn’t been tanned. ...
According to some skin specialists, skin that has a dry,
wrinkled, leathery appearance early in middle age is a
result of UV exposure that occurred in youth.
'No danger in exposure or burning.'
"Whether you tan indoors or out, studies show the
combination of ultraviolet rays and some medicines, birth
control pills, cosmetics, and soaps may accelerate skin
burns or produce painful adverse skin reactions, such as
rashes. In addition, tanning devices may induce common
light-sensitive skin ailments like cold sores."
While they may have heard about skin reactions, many teens
consider them minor and think that they will have many
years before they see any damaging effects from their
" ‘Indoor tanning is simply not safe,’ said dermatologist
James M. Spencer, M.D., one of the authors of the article.
‘A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
showed that there were 700 emergency room visits because of
injuries like sunburns, infections, and eye damage from
tanning bed use. In addition to these immediate injuries,
tanning bed users have an increased risk of developing skin
cancer, including the most deadly form, melanoma, in the
long term.’ ... [T]he new high-pressure UVA sunlamps can
emit doses of UVA that can be as much as 15 times that of
the sun, significantly increasing a tanning bed user’s skin
cancer risk. ‘If you really want to look tan, consider
using a sunless self-tanning product,’ Dr. Spencer said."
Even the "long term effects" may show up sooner than
"When Charlie was diagnosed with 4th stage melanoma, she
was 25 years old and life couldn’t have been better. She
had graduated three-and-a-half years before from Brown
University, planning on going to medical school. ... She
died on Nov. 24, 2003, eight months after her initial
Charlie didn't spend more time than others her age out in
the sun, yet "Charlie was diagnosed with 4th stage
"Although scientists have known for some time that too much
UV radiation can be harmful, new information makes these
warnings even more important. Some scientists have
suggested recently that there may be an association between
UVA radiation and malignant melanoma, the most serious type
of skin cancer. ... 'Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation
is the most preventable cause of skin cancer."
With teens and young adults showing up in emergency rooms
and skin cancer rates on the rise, many states have
legislation to limit teen usage of tanning salons.
Still other states are still working to get legislation
"State Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, has refiled
legislation to keep teens younger than 16 out of tanning
salons. Teens who are 17 or 18 would need written parental
consent to use tanning beds. Timilty said he refiled the
legislation, similar to a bill he filed last spring,
because he said Massachusetts has a high rate of skin
cancer and melanoma deaths, compared with the rest of the
country. ... According to the National Cancer Institute,
Massachusetts has a skin cancer mortality rate 18 percent
above the national average. Additionally, the state has a 4
percent higher rate of melanoma diagnosis. ... Dr. Kathryn
Bowers, president of the Massachusetts Academy of
Dermatologists, said teens who want a tanned look have
healthier options, such as bottle and spray tans. The
products have improved in quality over the years, and she
often cannot tell the difference between fake and real
Questions of the Week:
What do you know about the possible health risks associated
with indoor tanning? What do you think your friends, family
members, and peers know about this topic? What should they
know? What would be the best way to reach them with this
information? Whose responsibility is it to make sure that
people (teens and adults) have accurate information before
deciding to use a tanning salon?
If you are in a state that currently has laws restricting
the use of tanning salons for teens, what effect do you
think the legislation has had? If you are in a state that
does not currently have laws regarding teen tanning salon
use (or in a state that is considering it), what effects
would such legislation have on the behaviors of your
friends, family members, and peers?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum