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Indoor Tanning
All the Dangers of the Outdoor Sun, Including Skin Cancer
From the American Academy of Dermatology

On an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people invest both time and money visiting tanning salons.

However, what many don't realize is that the damage they receive from the indoor lamps is just as dangerous as outdoor sun exposure and can lead to the same deadly consequences.

Speaking at the American Academy of Dermatology's Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month Press Conference, dermatologist Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, discussed the dangers of tanning beds.

"Studies have found that indoor tanning may be just as harmful to the skin as outdoor sun exposure," said Dr. Sekula-Gibbs. "Most salon bulbs provide a significant amount of UVB and UVA radiation; both types are also found in the outdoor sun and cause various types of damage to the skin that may lead to skin cancer and should be avoided."

Past studies have suggested that tanning beds contribute to the incidence of melanoma, and now a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that the use of tanning devices may also contribute to the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers.

In addition, laboratory data has shown the combination of artificial sunlight exposure, such as the lights from the tanning beds, and subsequent UVA irradiation, significantly increased the tumor incidence in mice.

Tanning exposure may also decrease the ability of human cells to repair DNA damage associated with UV exposure.

"Dermatologists across the country are alarmed with the number of teenagers and young adults who continue to patronize tanning salons regardless of the studies that have reported on the link between sun exposure to a wide array of skin cancers," said Dr. Sekula-Gibbs.

"Dermatologists are treating more and more fatal skin lesions in remarkably young patients with the common denominator of overexposure to the sun before the age of 18 when their skin cells are especially vulnerable to injury from UV radiation."

Despite significant evidence supporting the relationship between indoor tanning and skin cancer, regulation of the two billion dollar tanning salon industry in the United States is limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 700 emergency department visits per year related to tanning salon exposure.

To help protect its citizens from the dangers of indoor tanning, the state of Texas passed House Bill 663 (HB 663) in 2001. This bill prohibits any person under the age of 13 from using indoor tanning salons, except under a doctor's supervision. Adolescents ages 13 through 15 must be escorted by a parent, and 16 and 17-year-olds must have a note from their parent in order to use the indoor tanning equipment.

House Bill 663 also mandates that the tanning salon keep a record of each customer, including information on the patient's eye color and skin type, and document any injuries related to tanning and an 800 number to the Texas Department of Health encouraging reporting of injuries.

"Through the passage of this legislation, the Texas legislature recognized the need for tighter regulation of the tanning industry and the compelling need to protect and educate young people about the dangers of tanning salons," said Dr. Sekula-Gibbs. "I hope that this bill will serve as a model for other states to draft and pass their own state regulations."

The AAD supports the following requirements for indoor tanning facilities, including:

  • A warning statement defining potential hazards and consequences of exposure to UVA should be signed by each patron.
  • No minor should be permitted to use a tanning bed without written consent of a parent or guardian.
  • No person or facility should advertise the use of any UVA or UVB tanning device using wording such as "safe," "safe tanning," "no harmful rays," "no adverse effect," or similar wording or concepts.
"There is no such thing as a safe tan," said Dr. Sekula-Gibbs. "A tan is the skin's response to an injury and every time you tan you accumulate damage to the skin, as well as accelerate the aging process and increase your risk for skin cancer. As long as indoor tanning for cosmetic effects is permitted in this country, there needs to be increased educational efforts informing the public of the risks of this type of tanning."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 1 million new cases diagnosed in the United States each year.

It is estimated that 87,900 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - in 2002 and approximately 7,400 deaths will be attributed to melanoma this year. At this rate, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations.

With a membership of over 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin.

For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM or www.aad.org.

Reprinted with permission from The American Academy of Dermatology (First released April 24, 2002)

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