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Sharp Health News

The dark side of tanning

Aug. 2, 2017

The dark side of tanning

A tanning bed is a convenient go-to for many young women looking for a quick way to get a golden bronze tan or a healthy glow for a special occasion. But when you consider that tanning bed use increases your risk of skin cancer by 70 percent, there’s nothing healthy about it.

“Society has this flawed view that an artificial tan is sexy. The truth is there’s more skin cancer due to indoor tanning than lung cancer due to smoking,” says Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Dermatologists are reporting an explosion of skin cancer in young women, warning that tanning beds are to blame. Of the approximately 7.8 million women who have used tanning beds, more than half started before age 21.

“Most women use tanning devices in their younger years before prom or some other event thinking it’s no big deal. But women ages 20 to 29 are now the number one group who fall victim to deadly melanoma, and it directly correlates to the use of artificial tanning devices. So it’s a very big deal,” says Dr. Mofid.

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) put artificial tanning on par with tobacco use as a public health threat and encouraged countries to consider banning or restricting the practice, and to inform users about the health risks. They estimate tanning bed use is responsible for more than 450,000 cases of skin cancer and 10,000 melanoma diagnoses annually in the U.S., Europe and Australia combined.

The organization has labeled indoor tanning as “carcinogenic to humans” alongside other cancer-causing agents such as tobacco, arsenic, radon and plutonium. To help assist government bodies in the development of public health intervention, the WHO issued a document encouraging policies to limit their use and raise awareness.

“Some indoor tanning equipment can emit damaging ultraviolet rays five times more powerful and concentrated than the sun during peak hours,” says Dr. Mofid. “Increased awareness and warnings of the dangers, coupled with restrictions for minors, is really necessary for public health.”

Young people are especially vulnerable to the ultraviolet rays emitted by tanning beds. Yet mistakenly, many in this age group think it’s safer than being in the sun.

According to one study, it’s estimated that restricting indoor tanning among minors under age 18 could prevent 61,839 cases of melanoma and prevent 6,735 deaths each year in the U.S.

Given the risks, the FDA has required labelling on tanning beds stating that they shouldn’t be used by anyone younger than 18, along with other restrictions. In California, tanning beds are banned for minors under age 18.

Dr. Mofid advises, “If you don’t use tanning beds, don’t start. If you just can’t be without a tan, tanning lotions, spray tanning, airbrushed tans and cosmetics are good alternatives and healthier options.”

“Also, as part of your personal health, check your skin regularly. If you notice anything growing, changing or bleeding on your skin, don’t delay in seeing a doctor.”

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mona Mofid about skin cancer for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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