A new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement strongly warns of the significant skin cancer risks of artificial tanning. But is your child listening?
These facts about the dangers of tanning don’t make for very sunny reading: Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has dramatically increased melanoma risk in this country in the last 30 years. The most rapid increases of this lethal form of skin cancer have occurred among young white women, amounting to a 3.2 percent increase every year since 1992 among 15- to 39-year-olds. Melanoma is the second most common cancer among women in their 20s, and the third most common cancer among men in their 30s. Chronic UVR overexposure from the sun and artificial sources such as tanning beds also weakens the skin’s elasticity, resulting in sagging cheeks, deep facial wrinkles, and skin discoloration later in life, along with an increased risk of cataracts.
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According to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), titled “Ultraviolet Radiation: A Hazard to Children and Adolescents,” the increasing popularity of tanning salons is one of the reasons we’re seeing these skin-cancer increases. (One recent analysis of tanning booths and skin cancer risk put tanning booths in the riskiest category, along with deadly cancer-causers like cigarettes and arsenic.)
THE DETAILS: Protecting your kids from the dangers of tanning isn’t always as easy as it sounds; for example, when your teenage daughter insists on a tanning visit before the big homecoming dance. Or when your son wants to “pre-tan” before his spring break trip to the beach. What’s a parent to do?
Start by realizing you have more authority than you may think. “Many states require parental consent for tanning under a certain age, and a lot of parents say yes and give permission without thinking about it,” says Sophie Balk, MD, attending pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, and lead author of the AAP report. It’s also important to take a long view of the dangers of tanning. “Parents might think that they have to pick their battles,” she explains. “Say their daughter is a straight-A student and a good kid and doesn’t smoke or drink, and wants to get a tan before the prom.” Her parent might decide this is not a battle to fight, and so the child gets in the habit of tanning. “What many parents don’t realize is that 5 to 10 years down the road, their child might get melanoma, and that the melanoma could be fatal,” Dr. Balk says.
WHAT IT MEANS: Instituting a tanning ban may be challenging, but parents need to lay down the law. “We are advocating so strongly in the report for laws prohibiting under-18 access to tanning salons,” says Dr. Balk. “In the meantime, we need to educate teens and their parents.” According to one recent study, 40 percent of the parents surveyed didn’t know that indoor tanning salons are harmful to kids. “We feel like once parents know the risks, they won’t have as much trouble just saying no,” she adds.