Two combinations, spring break and 90 degree weather have for years meant young people would head outside on towels to soak up the sun. But with the concern about skin cancer, many opt instead to get their tan indoors, in a tanning booth.
Tanning beds emit a heavy dose of u-v light, roughly 10 to15 times the amount you would get sitting outside at noon. That sun splurge significantly increases the risk for skin cancer, and that risk goes up the earlier you start. Yet young adults are not prohibited from tanning in many parts of the country. Now experts are calling on states and the Food and Drug Administration to beef up tanning bed restrictions, before teenage melanoma cases skyrocket.
"Exposure of any type of any tanning bed elicited at 75% increased risk for melanoma," said Lynn Anne Cornelius, M.D. at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
"The risks are higher the earlier you start tanning, yet in many states there are no age limits for tanning bed use," said Sophie Balk, M.D., and attending pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
"Seventeen states in this country have absolutely no legislation to protect minors."
In California and Vermont, the minimum age to tan is 18. In Missouri, no age restrictions are in place.
In 2007, researchers there surveyed local tanning salons about their rules on youth tanning.
"Two thirds of the um facilities would allow a 10-12 year old individual to tan, some of these said a parent didn't need to be consented or present," said Cornelius.
The American sun tanning association responded to the Missouri study in a statement saying it's in favor of new measures like strong parental consent laws. But researchers say that even if a parent signs off on tanning, the risk for skin cancer remains.
"We'd like all states to pass legislation prohibiting minors under 18 from tanning in salons," said Balk.
States are getting on board; more than 30 have some sort of tanning bed restriction in place for teens. Several other states, like Missouri, have legislation in the works.
The F-D-A requires tanning salons to have certain controls on the time spent in a bed, and the dose of U-V exposure.
Right now tanning beds are classified as class one medical devices, the same as tongue depressors and elastic bandages.
An F-D-A advisory panel recommended changes be made to that classification, something the agency is currently considering.
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