Skin Cancer Risk From Indoor Tanning Is Same As Outdoors

On an average day in the United States, more than 1 million people invest both time and money visiting tanning salons. However, what many don’t realize is that the damage they receive from the indoor lamps is just as dangerous as outdoor sun exposure and can lead to the same deadly consequences.
Speaking recently at an American Academy of Dermatology conference, Dr. Shelley Sekula Rodriguez, clinical assistant professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, discussed the dangers of tanning beds.

“Studies have found that indoor tanning may be just as harmful to the skin as outdoor sun exposure,” she said. “Most salon bulbs provide a significant amount of UVB and UVA radiation; both types are also found in the outdoor sun and cause various types of damage to the skin that may lead to skin cancer, and should be avoided.”

Past studies have suggested that tanning beds contribute to the incidence of melanoma, and now a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that the use of tanning devices may also contribute to the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers. In addition, laboratory data has shown the combination of artificial sunlight exposure, such as the lights from the tanning beds, and subsequent UVA irradiation significantly increased the tumor incidence in mice. Tanning exposure may also decrease the ability of human cells to repair DNA damage associated with UV exposure.

“Dermatologists across the country are alarmed with the number of teenagers and young adults who continue to patronize tanning salons regardless of the studies that have reported on the link between sun exposure to a wide array of skin cancers,” Sekula Rodriguez said. “Dermatologists are treating more and more fatal skin lesions in remarkably young patients with the common denominator of overexposure to the sun before the age of 18, when their skin cells are especially vulnerable to injury from UV radiation.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million new cases across the country each year. It is estimated that 87,900 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — in 2002, and approximately 7,400 deaths will be attributed to melanoma this year. At this rate, one person dies of melanoma every hour.

Despite significant evidence supporting the relationship between indoor tanning and skin cancer, regulation of the $2 billion tanning salon industry in the United States is limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report an estimated 700 emergency department visits per year related to tanning salons.

The AAD supports the following requirements for indoor tanning facilities:
• A warning statement defining potential hazards and consequences of exposure to UVA should be signed by each patron;
• No minor should be permitted to use a tanning bed without written consent of a parent or guardian; and
• No person or facility should advertise the use of any UVA or UVB tanning device using wording such as “safe,” “safe tanning,” “no harmful rays,” “no adverse effect,” or similar wording or concepts.

“There is no such thing as a safe tan,” Sekula Rodriguez said. “As long as indoor tanning for cosmetic effects is permitted in this country, there needs to be increased educational efforts informing the public of the risks.”

Donna Stein is the senior director of Communications for the American Academy of Dermatology.