On the heels of an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) in July 2009 that tanning beds are known carcinogens, along with a move by lawmakers in the United Kingdom to ban teens from using tanning beds, the Food and Drug Administration has finally decided to consider stricter warnings about use of the devices and the risk of cancer. The study released by WHO revealed that use of tanning beds by individuals before the age of 30 increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 75 percent.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society notes that there are two main types of skin cancer: melanomas and keratinocyte (basal and squamous cell skin cancers). Melanomas get their name from the fact that they develop from melanocytes, the cells that make the brown pigment that gives skin its color.
Although melanomas occur less often than basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, they can be much more serious, even deadly. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology notes that an estimated 121,840 new cases of melanoma were projected for the United States in 2009, with nearly 9,000 deaths.
The FDA says its advisors will hold public hearings on tanning bed safety in March, and that the topics of discussion will be the possibility of stricter regulations, increased cancer warning requirements, and possibly reclassifying tanning beds as a more controlled type of medical device. The current FDA classification for tannings beds puts them on par with bandages.
Sharon Miller, the FDA’s UV radiation specialist, told the Associated Press that “We don’t recommend using them at all, but we know people do use them so we want to make them as low-risk as possible.” Reclassification of tanning beds by the FDA will allow the agency to yield more regulatory power over their use.
The Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) and the FDA insist that one problem with tanning beds is that people use them too often and therefore overexpose themselves to ultraviolet radiation. According to the ITA website, “tanning facilities in the United States are equipped to deliver cosmetic tans using protocol designed to minimize the risk of sunburn.” It also notes that “moderate tanning…is the best way to maximize the potential benefits of sun exposure while minimizing the potential risks associated with either too much or too little sunlight.” The FDA states that people who use a tanning bed once a week can get the same results as going three times per week.
While the FDA spends time debating whether a known carcinogen should possibly be better controlled or whether tanning beds should be moved out of the category it shares with bandages, thousands of individuals, many of them young people, will continue using tanning beds and increase their risk of developing a potentially deadly skin cancer. Individuals who want to find where they can get a free skin cancer screening can visit the website for the American Academy of Dermatology.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Cancer Society
Indoor Tanning Association