tanning bed

Greater Regulation Could Put an End to Teen Tanning

March 25, 2010 12:20 PM
by James Sullivan
Confronted with a growing body of evidence suggesting a link between indoor tanning and skin cancer, the FDA is meeting today to discuss whether indoor tanning devices should be more heavily regulated.

How Heavily Should Indoor Tanning Be Regulated?

Tanning beds are currently regarded as Class I medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Class I category includes devices such as tongue depressors, elastic bandages and bedpans. Under this classification tanning beds are subject to little regulation.

Today, the FDA is set to meet with the Medical Devices Advisory Panel to review the classification of tanning beds. If the FDA reclassifies indoor tanning beds as Class II devices, they will be subject to greater restrictions and could be made off-limits to minors. Their use could also be monitored by a nationwide registry.

ABC News reports that “National organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and American Academy of Dermatologists, along with melanoma survivors, are also expected to testify to urge the FDA to reclassify.”

The tanning industry has already taken a hit recently. As part of the Obama administration’s health care bill, a 10 percent tax will be imposed on all individuals who use tanning beds. “[T]he initiative is expected to generate $2.7 billion over 10 years to help fund the health care overhaul.”

Though research has observed a direct link between cancer and indoor tanning, the threat of melanoma hasn’t been enough to stop young people from tanning.

Tanning Beds Cause Cancer, But Will People Stop Tanning?

Last July, scientists in the International Agency for Research on Cancer released a report in The Lancet Oncology listing some cancer-causing mechanisms. In that list of definite carcinogens were ultraviolet radiation and tanning beds.

According to Maria Cheng of the AP, tanning beds and UVA radiation were previously only classified as “probable carcinogens.” The move to the definite carcinogen list is a result of studies showing that risk of skin cancer increased 75 percent with use of a tanning bed for young adults. Although many types of skin cancer are not deadly, the risk of deadly melanoma also increased 20 percent with use of a tanning bed.

No Such Thing as a “Safe” Tanning Bed or “Healthy Tan”

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society warns that claims that some tanning beds are “safe” because they use more UVA than UVB radiation in the bulbs have now been definitively proven false, and that there is no safe tanning bed.

In 2008, after studies were released that many Americans were not getting sufficient vitamin D, the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) launched a campaign promoting the health benefits of tanning. The American Academy of Dermatology fought back by explaining that the UV levels in tanning beds are many times greater than those from the sun. In his blog, Dr. Lichtenfeld warns that the promotion of a “healthy tan” for vitamin D is not valid. He points out that over-the-counter vitamins and a healthy diet can provide sufficient amounts of the vitamin.

Will Teens and Young Women Stop Tanning?

But teens and young women may not heed the conclusive evidence about tanning beds and cancer. Many young people see tan skin as an indication of health and beauty, and reports say that millions of teenagers visit tanning salons each year, despite continuing warnings about the effects of UV damage. So despite the apathy among teens toward the health risks of tanning, Dr. Lichtenfeld suggests that perhaps this new classification of tanning beds as carcinogens will ignite changes in laws regarding tanning age.

Protecting Your Skin From Sun Damage

Going out in the sun is part of life, but damaging your skin in the process doesn’t have to be. The Sun Protection Web Guide explains the dangers of sun exposure and provides tips and tools to help you and your children stay safe in the sun, and choose protective clothing and sun block. 

Also, for best protection, remember to apply sun block before you go outdoors and reapply every hour.

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