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Pediatric Health

Teens and Tanning Beds: A Toxic Mix

Pediatricians' call for ban puts increased heat on industry

July 01, 2011
Don't do it. That's my simple advice for patients, and their parents, when they ask me what I think about indoor tanning.

Yet every year, millions of teenagers head to tanning salons, lured by promises of beauty and popularity, and the mistaken belief that tanning beds are safer than the sun. This is despite the fact that doctors have tried for years to shed light on the dangers of indoor tanning.

With skin cancer rates on the rise in young people, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently took its public education efforts a step further. Earlier this year, the organization announced its support for an outright ban on tanning bed usage by anyone under age 18. In doing so, the AAP joined a chorus of voices calling for restrictions on indoor tanning, and with good reason. Consider that:

• People who begin indoor tanning before age 30 have a 75 percent increase in their chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Moreover, melanoma now is the most common skin cancer in children.

• Tanning beds are known cancer-causing agents, according to a 2009 statement by international cancer experts.

• A recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps.

• Studies have shown that exposure to ultraviolet radiation damages the DNA in the skin cells and can lead to premature aging, immune suppression and eye damage.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the indoor tanning industry continues to thrive, fueled in large part by a culture that equates bronze skin with beauty and Health.

An industry in the spotlight

On an average day, 1 million Americans, mostly girls and women aged 16 to 29, tan in a salon. Indoor tanning is big business, with 2010 revenues estimated at $2.6 billion. By one estimate, at least a quarter of all teens have tried tanning.

The industry claims that using tanning beds is "healthier" than tanning in the sun because their products primarily emit ultraviolet-A (UVA) rays, which are less likely to cause sunburn than UVB rays. This is deceiving, as UVA rays actually penetrate deeper than UVB rays and can cause significant long-term damage.

More than 30 states restrict indoor tanning use by minors in some manner. In Indiana, state law requires children ages 16 and under using a tanning bed to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and written parental consent for anyone under 18.

While these are positive steps, the only way to truly protect your skin is by avoiding tanning salons and outdoor tanning altogether. There is no such thing as a safe tan – unless it comes in a bottle. Tell your daughter that self tanners have come a long way since you were a teenager.

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Dr. Patricia Treadwell is a pediatric dermatologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

Tags: Health, Local, Parenting, Pediatric Health, Tweens & Teens

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