Tanning Beds Increase Risk of Melanoma: That “Healthy Glow” Isn’t Healthy

lady laying in a tanning bedTanned skin is in. Year round.

Many teens and young adults happily hand over big bucks for bronzed skin in winter.

But is that golden glow worth the increased risk of deadly melanoma?

David F. Butler, MD, Dermatologist at Temple Northside Dermatology Clinic, cautions that tanning beds may increase the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.

Melanoma risk

“It’s incredibly important that younger people realize that tanning beds are dangerous,” cautions Dr. Butler. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, causes around 8,700 deaths each year in the United States.

Melanoma begins in your skin cells, often as a discolored mole. Without prompt treatment, the cancerous cells may grow deeply into your skin, invading your bloodstream or lymph system and then spread throughout your body.

“We now know that there’s probably a link to developing melanoma and using a tanning salon on a regular basis. There’s a sort of an epidemic of young women developing melanoma, particularly on their trunks, who have a history of using a tanning salon,” Dr. Butler says.

In a study published May 2010 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, researchers noted that people who use tanning beds have a 74 percent higher chance of developing melanoma than people who who’ve never used those devices. The majority of people who use tanning beds are young women, says Dr. Butler.

Repeated Exposure

The lead researcher, De Ann Lazovich, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said in the melanoma report that “cumulative exposure is the key.”

Locally, “We saw two young women, 19 and younger, with melanoma on their trunks this past year. Both of them stated that they went to a tanning salon on a regular basis,” says Dr. Butler.

Age

Age matters, too. A number of studies show that there’s an increased risk for both melanoma and basal cell carcinoma for people in their teens and early 20s. Younger skin appears to be more at risk than researchers first believed.

Other Skin Cancers

Tanning beds are also linked to other kinds of skin cancer. In a study released this year in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Yale researchers noted that people who use indoor tanning beds are at an increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma before the age of 40 (compared to people who never used tanning beds).

A “Carcinogen”

In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer added indoor tanning beds to its list of carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.

Says Dr. Butler: “The Food & Drug Administration is also currently looking into labeling tanning beds as a carcinogen, like cigarettes.”

“It’s incredibly important that younger people realize that tanning beds are dangerous.”

An advisory panel to the FDA in March 2010 recommended a ban on tanning beds for all people under the age of 18; the ban is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Moreover, the National Cancer Institute suggests you try tanning sprays and “avoid tanning beds and booths.”

Other Health Risks

Recent research reveals that repeated exposure to artificial ultraviolet rays may:

  • Enhance damage done by the sun, including thinning your skin—making it less able to heal
  • Cause cataracts
  • Destroy the Vitamin D in your body
The Law

Because of the potential risks associated with indoor tanning, Texas state law heavily regulates indoor tanning by minors.

In Texas, state law:

  • Forbids the use of tanning beds for all minors under the age of 16.5 years
  • Requires signed parental permission for all minors to use tanning beds
  • Requires that minors must agree to wear eye protection at all times while using tanning device
  • Requires that a minor and parent must read and sign an advisory statement issued by Texas Medical Board warning of risks of indoor tanning and its association with:
    • Skin cancer
    • Eye damage
    • Other health risks

“Through lobbying by dermatologists in the state of Texas, no one under the age of 16-and-a-half can go in and get a tan. And if you’re between 16-and-a-half and 18,” Dr. Butler says, “you have to have a parent co-sign. There are now restrictions on the use of tanning beds for kids.”

Dr. Butler says, “Perhaps these limitations can reduce the incidence of skin cancer in our young women.”

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