Legislation would allow only those 18 and older to use tanning beds

    Indoor tanning has become wildly popular among high schoolers headed to prom and college students bound for the beach.    

    Thirty-four percent of 11th grade females recently surveyed reported that they had tanned indoors in the last year and more than half of them tanned indoors 10 or more times.    

    A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society showed that frequent users of tanning beds–those who tan for at least 50 hours, 100 sessions or 10 years–are two to three times likelier to develop melanoma than those who never tan indoors.    

    “I remind teens and parents that 15 to 30 minutes in the booth equals a whole afternoon by the pool,” said dermatologist Sean Burke, MD, one of hundreds of medical partners working to spread the word on indoor tanning dangers.    

    “Melanoma is “a terrible cancer that can rob young adults of years of their life,” said University of Minnesota Associate Prof. DeAnn Lazovich, a leading researcher on indoor tanning and melanoma at the School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center. “Sadly, we do not know how to prevent many cancers. But, we do know that avoiding ultraviolet exposure can prevent many melanomas.” 

Tanning beds   

    Indoor tanning beds deliver 10 to 15 times more ultraviolet (UV) radiation than natural sunlight, increasing the user’s risk of developing melanoma by at least 59 percent, according to state health officials.    

    Sunlamps and tanning beds promise consumers a bronzed body year-round, but the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from these devices poses serious health risks.   

    There is a general misconception among adults and teens about the potential health harms of using indoor tanning devices. One belief is that a “base tan” obtained by using indoor tanning devices will have a protective effect from excessive sun exposure.    

    “Any tan is a sign of skin damaged,” said Sharon Miller, M.S.E.E., a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientist and international expert on UV radiation and tanning. “A tan is the skin’s reaction to exposure to UV rays. Recognizing exposure to the rays as an ‘insult,’ the skin acts in self-defense by producing more melanin, a pigment that darkens the skin. Over time, this damage will lead to prematurely aged skin, and in some cases, skin cancer.”    

    Because the harmful effects of UV exposure are cumulative over time, indoor tanning devices pose a higher risk for children and teens by increasing overall lifetime UV exposure. Additionally, more than half of adolescents who use an indoor tanning device reported sunburn after use, which can significantly increase their risk for melanoma.

Cancer risk   

    Exposure to UV radiation–whether from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunlamps used in tanning beds­–increase the risk of developing skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is linked to getting severe sunburns, especially at a young age.    

    In July 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that tanning devices that emit UV radiation are more dangerous than previously thought. IARC moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans.” Previously, it had categorized the devices as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” 


    Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and one of the fastest-growing cancers, particularly among young adults. It is the second most common cancer among female’s ages 15-29 years old, according to cancer registry data. The number of non-Hispanic white women ages 20 to 49 years old diagnosed with melanoma is increasing 5 percent each year.    

    The statistics reported in JAMA Internal Medicine were gathered as part of the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior and the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, both administered by the CDC. The researchers found that the number of young women diagnosed with melanoma each year has doubled.  The trend has been observed for 15 years.  


    Several states have passed laws restricting tanning bed use to adults over 18 and many more are considering similar measures.    

    Currently, North Dakota State Law requires a parent or legal guardian to sign a consent form or have a notarized statement of consent if the tanner is 14 years of age or under the age of 18. Any tanner under the age of 14 must have a written order from a physician licensed in North Dakota and needs to be accompanied be a parent or legal guardian for every tanning session.    

    Other state laws and the widespread, increasing use of indoor tanning devices has spurred Minnesota into developing legislation to limit use to adults 18-years and older.    

    “The dangers of indoor tanning, especially among young people, are truly staggering,” said Matt Schafer, American Cancer Society Center Action Network (ACS CAN) Government Relations Director.

    “Unfortunately, while the risk is real, the understanding among teens and their parents is lacking. Legislation will go a long way to preventing a generation of needless suffering and death from skin cancer.”