The FDA proposes stricter regulations of indoor tanning in the United States. (Photo: Getty Images)
It may be winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but teenagers all around the world are still pursuing artificial tans. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing to ban individuals under 18 from using indoor tanning beds (also known as sunlamp products). Despite increasing awareness of the dangers of using tanning beds, a 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that a whopping 1.6 million teenagers tan indoors every year. Individuals over the age of 18 aren’t getting off scot-free either — new FDA regulations would require them to sign a waiver confirming their awareness of the risks involved. And finally, the FDA is making sure that manufacturers and tanning facilities accept culpability, too: they will be required to improve the safety of their devices. Some of these changes include bigger and more prominent warnings on the devices, an emergency shut-down button, protective eyewear, clearer instructions on proper bulb replacement, and banning device modifications without proper re-assessment from the FDA.
“Today’s action is intended to help protect young people from a known and preventable cause of skin cancer and other harms,” acting FDA Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D. said in a press release. “Individuals under 18 years are at greatest risk of the adverse health consequences of indoor tanning.” The measures would affect about 19,000 indoor tanning salons nationwide and up to 20,000 other facilities, like “health” spas, that also offer tanning services. In 2009, the World Health Organization classified indoor tanning devices as Class I human carcinogens due to strong evidence linking indoor tanning to an increased risk of skin cancer.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, exposing oneself to the radiation from indoor tanning can increase the likelihood of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer that kill 9,000 individuals in the United States annually, by 59 percent. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that over 3,000 emergency department visits occur from injuries related to indoor tanning. The FDA also notes that continuous indoor tanning — many salons offer package deals or stamp cards, for example — can put young people at greater risk for eye and skin damage when they get older. Tanning can also cause premature aging of the skin, from wrinkles to dark spots to rough leathery skin. “[I]t may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan,” warns the FDA.
The tanning epidemic has been addressed before. In July 2014, the Surgeon General published a “Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer” as an attempt to educate people about the importance of sun protection. “[I]ndoor tanning rates are high among some groups, such as young, non-Hispanic white females, and skin cancer incidence rates are increasing,” notes the publication. The Surgeon General also warns that even people who don’t go to tanning salons need to be careful — daily applications of sunscreen and avoiding long exposure in the sun is crucial, too. Biological anthropologist Nina G. Jablonski, PhD, noted that between the 1960s and 1990s, tanning, promoted by celebrities like Brigitte Bardot, was seen as both a sign of good wealth and good health. “Pallor was for corpses,” she wrote.
Finally, people on a mass scale are starting to realize that tanning, whether it’s under the sun at the beach or under artificial lights, is significantly damaging to one’s health in the long run. Teenagers, however, may not be aware of the gravity of these concerns. The FDA’s proposals not only confirm that indoor tanning is a national health risk, but also highlight how little most of us know about the risks to this day.