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Tanning Salons Not Protecting Minors against Melanoma


Most tanning salons and spas will allow teens to use their tanning facilities seven days a week, which goes against the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendations, says a new article in the Archives of Dermatology. The FDA recommends that minors have no more than three tanning sessions during their first week of indoor tanning.

One problem may be that the current FDA warnings about indoor tanning among young people are merely recommendations and there are no laws against minors opting for more than three sessions. Twenty-eight state have laws that restrict indoor tanning for minors, and 21 states require parental consent, which typically is a signature. Minors can get around these requirements by lying about their age or by bringing in a falsely signed consent form.

A few states are considering stricter legislation, including banning anyone younger than 18 from using tanning beds (which is the recommendation of the World Health Organization) and requiring parents of minors to sign consent forms in the presence of tanning bed operators. Another idea is to require consent forms to state the number of tanning sessions the minor is allowed to receive.

In the new study, researchers posed as 15-year-old girls and contacted 3,647 tanning facilities across the United States. The imposters told the tanning salon operators that they were fair-skinned (which places them at high risk for burns and melanoma) and had not used a tanning facility in the past.

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The findings of the study are mixed. Although about 87 percent of tanning salon operators told the callers they needed parental permission, only 11 percent told the “teens” they could only attend three or fewer sessions during the first week, while 71 percent of the tanning facilities told the callers they could tan every day.

In July 2009, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer placed tanning bed use in the category of “carcinogenic to humans,” which is the highest cancer risk category. Although tanning is a carcinogen for everyone, adolescents are especially at risk. Studies show that the rates of skin cancer among women ages 15 to 35 have been rising in the United States, and that women who use tanning beds before age 35 can increase their risk of melanoma and squamous cell cancer by up to 75 percent.

In a study published in the January 2009 issue of Cancer, researchers analyzed tanning bed use among more than 2,800 adolescents ages 11 to 18. They found that 58 percent of them reported burns from the tanning experience. The investigators also discovered that the presence of state legislation restricting access to indoor tanning for minors was of limited effectiveness. The reasons for this lack of compliance may be that although most states permit minors to use indoor tanning facilities with parental consent, minors can circumvent that requirement, and tanning salons may not be asking for consent forms once a client shows up at the salon.

Although melanoma in children and adolescents is rare, accounting for only 1.3 percent of all cancer cases in people younger than 20, among 15- to 19-year-olds melanoma accounts for up to 7 percent of all cancers. Beyond these figures is the increased risk for minors for developing melanoma in the future. While young people are concerned primarily with being tanned, parents, salon operators, legislators, and other responsible adults need to understand the serious risk associated with tanning bed use among minors and take steps to seriously limit if not ban it.

Cokkinides V et al. Cancer 2009 Jan 1; 115(1): 190-98
Pappo AS. European Journal of Cancer 2003 Dec; 39 (18): 2651-6
Pichon LC et al. Archives of Dermatology 2009; 145(9): 997-1002
US News & World Report September 21, 2009

Written by Deborah Mitchell
Tucson, Arizona
Exclusive to eMaxHealth