The American Cancer Society advises that use of a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent, and overexposure to ultraviolet radiation is thought to be the primary risk factor for most skin cancers.
Indoor tanning beds deliver UV rays just as the sun does. High-pressure tanning bulbs can deliver as much as 15 times the UV radiation we receive from the sun, turning a 15-30 minute tanning bed session into the equivalent of an entire day at the beach.
Melanoma, the sixth most common cancer in men and the seventh in women (in the United States), is a type of skin cancer caused when skin is damaged by the harmful effects of the sun. It is more common in fair-skinned people. Survivors of melanoma must avoid the sun and are always at risk for developing more.
Now the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified UV-emitting tanning devices as “carcinogenic to humans,” using the combined analysis of more than 20 studies to reach that conclusion. It also points to an increased risk of ocular melanoma from the use of tanning devices.
The World Health Organization recommends that consumers avoid sun lamps and tanning beds, as well as protecting yourself from over exposure to the sun.
Many states already have laws on the books with various restrictions regarding the use of tanning salons by minors, while other states have pending legislation. From the National Conference of State Legislatures: State by State Legislation of Tanning Salons.
It all comes down to personal choice — personal responsibility — for our own health and well being. Just as people choose to smoke knowing the dangers to their health, people will choose to use tanning devices.
Whether this information will have any measurable impact on consumers, especially young consumers, remains to be seen. One would think that the perceived benefit of tanned skin would not outweigh the risk of often preventable forms of cancer. But the lure of the “healthy glow” is a powerful one.