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Can We Officially Ban the Tanning Bed, Please?

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It's hard to believe, but there are still people dying (and I mean this quite literally) for a tan. Tanning booths, unaffectionately referred to as cancer booths by fellow dermatologists, are a thriving source of bronzed—and damaged—skin.

Nevermind that the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization's International Agency of Research on Cancer panel have declared ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and artificial sources—think tanning beds and sun lamps—to be a known carcinogen. Or that the Skin Cancer Foundation found that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by a whopping 75 percent. Or even that a study in JAMA Dermatology revealed that the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.

In spite of these frightening facts, people still use tanning beds. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 35 percent of American adults, 59 percent of college students, and 17 percent of teens have reported using a tanning bed in their lifetime. Doctors, those affected by skin cancer, and concerned citizens have lobbied with some great success to restrict these cancer-causing machines. Some victories:

  • California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Texas, and Vermont have passed laws that prohibit minors under the age of 18 from indoor tanning.
  • Oregon and Washington have passed laws prohibiting minors under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices, unless a prescription is provided.
  • Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania have passed legislation banning minors under the age of 17 from using tanning devices.
  • By 2015, more than 40 U.S. states had introduced stricter regulations to limit indoor tanning, especially among minors.

That being said, we still have a long way to go. A recent study in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine: Practice, Policy, Research showed that when 365 non-Hispanic women between the ages of 18 and 30 were surveyed in Washington D.C., most were not in favor of completely banning the tan. Yes, the majority were proponents of laws which prevent children younger than 18 years from indoor tanning. The majority (77.6 percent) were also in favor of stronger health warnings being placed on the tanning devices themselves—but only a low number wanted to see the complete eradication of tanning booths.

But here's the thing: All the participants had used a tanning booth at least once in the past year. So...there may be a little bias. Had the researchers asked dermatologists, oncologists, or mourning family members who have lost their loved ones to skin cancer, the outcome would likely be quite different.

Even one indoor tanning session can increase users' risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent. All it takes is one time.That's why the American Academy of Dermatology opposes indoor tanning and supports a ban on the production and sale of indoor tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes.

The verdict: If you want a sunkissed glow, get your spray tan on. If you see a booth, keep walking.

 

Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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