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Sharp Health News

The dark side of indoor tanning

June 14, 2022

Person using indoor tanning bed

There’s nothing attractive or cool about sun damage and skin cancer. Yet, indoor tanning operations are in nearly every town across the U.S. — and business isn’t slowing. Globally, however, 13 countries have banned indoor tanning for people younger than age 18, and two countries have banned indoor tanning altogether.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. In fact, an estimated 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and more than two people will die from skin cancer every hour. What’s more, melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults.

“Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds at young ages contributes to the tragically high rates of young people developing skin cancer, including potentially fatal melanoma,” says Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Indoor tanning can lead to skin cancer
Sunlamp products, commonly known as indoor tanning beds and booths, emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a known contributor to the development of skin cancer, Dr. Mofid reports. Data from several studies shows that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC), including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.

“Each year, more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer, including both melanoma and NMSC, are linked to indoor tanning in the United States alone,” Dr. Mofid says. “And studies have found a 59% increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning. Even a single indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67%.”

Despite these significant risks, Dr. Mofid notes that nearly 30 million people throughout the U.S. use indoor tanning devices each year. And just 22 states and the District of Columbia prohibit people younger than 18 from using indoor tanning devices.

Proposed legislation to regulate indoor tanning
“The public’s health continues to be at risk due to insufficient regulations,” Dr. Mofid says. “The good news is there is much work being done to enact legislation prohibiting minors under age 18 throughout the United States from using tanning beds without adult consent.”

Additional recommended changes in the legislation include posting a risk-acknowledgement certification at indoor tanning businesses to help educate potential users. Product warning labels would be made more visible, and manufacturers would be required to include cancer warnings in informational brochures and materials used to market sunlamp products.

“Tanning bed users need to be informed about the serious health risks of indoor tanning,” Dr. Mofid says. “This includes the increased risk of developing potentially fatal melanoma and other skin cancers.”

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