Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults (25–29 years) and the second most common in adolescents and young adults (15–29 years). The incidence of melanoma has been on the rise for the past 30 years. By current estimates, more than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed annually. Bruce A. Brod, MD, FAAD, presented information further linking indoor tanning and skin cancer at the 2012 American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD) Summer Academy Meeting.

One of the major risk factors for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Studies show that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of melanoma, especially in women ≤45 years old. A review of seven studies found a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma in those exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.

A study released in 2010 examined 1,167 cases of melanoma diagnosed in people aged 25–59 years old in Minnesota from 2004–2007. It showed that 62.9% of participants diagnosed with melanoma had tanned indoors; the risk increased with the use of tanning beds regardless of the starting age.

Tanning beds emit two types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UBV) light. Exposure to both rays from the sun or indoor tanning devices is a known risk factor for skin cancer. The tanning industry claims that UVA is a good source of vitamin D, but dermatologists point out that UV rays are not efficient at producing vitamin D in the skin. The AAD recommends that the public obtain vitamin D safely from a healthy diet rather than from sun exposure or indoor tanning.

The 2012 U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce found that “the vast majority of tanning salons contacted by the Committee investigators provided false information about the serious risks of indoor tanning and made specious claims about the health benefits that indoor tanning provides.” Specifically, the Committee report found that:

  • nearly all salons denied the known risks of indoor tanning;
  • four out of five salons falsely claimed that indoor tanning is beneficial to a young person’s health, and salons used many approaches to downplay the health risks of indoor tanning;
  • tanning salons fail to follow FDA recommendations on tanning frequency;
  • tanning salons target teenage girls in their advertisements

“Dermatologists are working harder than ever to expose the aggressive and misleading claims by the tanning industry,” said Dr. Brod, but “there are still many hurdles to overcome to persuade more legislators to take a stand against this controllable health risk.”

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