Tanning beds are a known carcinogen. Word on the street (or in the hallway) may not reflect true knowledge of the dangers. I know plenty of cancer survivors who use tanning beds. Therefore it’s obvious to me that there is a clear disconnect between the science of tanning risks and our insight.
Although you may think tanning beds are a thing of the 1990s, widespread use continues. In fact, new research published today in JAMA Dermatology finds that 35% of adults in Western countries have used a tanning bed during their life while 14% have used a tanning bed within the last year. Tanning beds deliver ultraviolet (UV) radiation that damages skin cells or cells in our eyes. The Center for Disease Control explains it this way, “Indoor tanning exposes users to both UV-A and UV-B rays, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer. Using a tanning bed is particularly dangerous for younger users; people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 59% higher risk of melanoma. Using tanning beds also increases the risk of wrinkles and eye damage, and changes skin texture. Indoor tanning is a known and preventable cause of skin cancer, skin aging, and wrinkling.”
In my opinion it’s worth your time to figure out ways to ban indoor tanning for those in your home.
Education and tanning have an unfortunate relationship. Going to college actually increases your exposure to the carcinogen. In the JAMA study, researchers found that 55% of university students have used a tanning bed and 43% have used a tanning bed within the last year. Indoor tanning is a known real threat to human health, on par with the risks incurred from things like cigarettes. It’s predicted the rate skin cancer due to indoor tanning will continue to surpass the number of lung cancer cases caused by smoking. Smoking causes other health problems (elevated BP, heart disease) so the comparison is imperfect. That being said, researchers explain that indoor tanning is a relatively new behavior that has grown in popularity, whereas smoking rates are declining in the US and other Western countries.
Teens And Tanning:
- The JAMA study found 19.3% of adolescents (< 19 years) in Western countries have used a tanning bed.
- The tanning is ongoing. They report 18.3% (nearly 1 in 5) of adolescents have used a tanning bed within the last year.
- The risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, increases by 75% when use of tanning devices starts before age 35.
- Research shows that even one trip to the tanning bed affects our risk of developing skin cancer. Just one indoor tanning session increases the chance of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk by about 2%. Read Brittany Cicala’s story with tanning, beauty pageants, and her subsequent health challenges.
So if 1 in 5 teens (and more than 1/2 of university students) use tanning beds — how do we get them to understand the real and present risks? I suggest you talk with teens about cancer risks, but you also talk about wrinkles.
If vanity is what draws young adults to tanning beds it might also be what drives them away.
Studies show that UV radiation (that can come from tanning beds) prematurely ages the skin and decrease the skin’s immune response. The more a teen tans (in tanning bed or in the sun) the more wrinkly they’ll get, and the more moles they’ll develop. A tanning bed delivers UV radiation that is about 10-15 times more potent than the sun.
There are no health benefits to tanning beds for children. States are gradually banning its use but the culture, myths and assumptions around indoor tanning has diluted the real and present danger. California, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont have banned the use of tanning beds by minors, but we have a long way to go to protect all children in the US. If the use of a tanning bed is for concerns about vitamin D, make no mistake, you can eat vitamin D (with food or supplements)– it’s never in a child’s interest to get their “daily vitamin D” from a tanning bed.
Indoor tanning accounts for nearly half a million new cancer diagnoses each year, more than the number of lung cancer diagnosis caused by smoking. ~ JAMA Dermatology
Tanning Linked To Skin Cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes UV tanning in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances, which includes plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.
JAMA researches predict the rate of skin cancer among those age 30 and younger will continue to grow in coming years as early exposure to tanning beds comes to term. Skin cancer is already the most common form of cancer in the US. 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of their lifetime, and in the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
More data from SkinCancer.org
- More than one million Americans use tanning salons on an average day
- The indoor tanning industry has an annual estimated revenue of $5 billion
- 76% of melanoma cases among those 18 to 29 years old were attributed to tanning bed use
- Between 1992 and 2000, treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell or squamous cell cancers) increased by nearly 77%
What about spray tans? Do you know if there is much research on those?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Sprays tans are great for those who want to change the color of their skin. No cancer risk, of course.
My only hesitation on supporting it is that it perpetuates the myth that tan is more beautiful than pale…
I’m 24, tanned very frequently in my High School and College years, and just last week was diagnosed with Melanoma. I have a 3 year old daughter that I can say for certain I will never be letting her tan, nor will I ever again! Not worth it!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Thanks for your comment, Michelle. So sorry to hear about your diagnosis of melanoma. Really hope you care is easy and you continue your advocacy to share your story and help others understand the risks of indoor tanning.