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FDA to bar teens from indoor tanning: What parents need to know

Teens may sulk, but doctors are applauding proposed new rules that would bar anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed.
/ Source: TODAY

Teens may sulk, but doctors are applauding proposed new rules that would bar anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed.

“Children will be safer and healthier for it,” Dr. Sandra G. Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “There is no safe level of tanning bed use for young people.”

Image: Tanning bed
Indoor tanning can cause skin cancers including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.AP file

The new rules, proposed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, also would require anyone over 18 who uses a tanning salon to sign a document saying they understand the risks — which include skin cancer and severe burns.

But it’s the use of tanning beds by young people that especially concerns parents and doctors.

Skin cancer takes time to develop, and the younger a person is when exposed to damaging UV light, the more time there is for tumors to grow.

Many teens preoccupied with their quest to achieve bronze skin aren’t paying attention to those warnings.

Read more: They came for a 'Free Killer Tan' but ended up at their own funerals

Almost 13 percent of high school students, 17 percent of teens overall and 59 percent of college students say they’ve used an indoor tanning device, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The FDA has been gradually ratcheting up the warnings on tanning beds and lamps. They must already carry a "black-box" warning saying they should not be used by people under 18.

“Restricting teens’ access to indoor tanning and educating all users about the dangers of tanning devices are critical steps to preventing skin cancer,” said Dr. Mark G. Lebwohl, president of the American Academy of Dermatology in a statement.

Here’s what parents and teens need to know about the risks:

  • Indoor tanning can cause skin cancers including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
  • The earlier a teen begins to tan indoors, the more hours of UV exposure he or she will accumulate over a lifetime, increasing the chances of developing skin cancer.
  • "Individuals under 18 years are at greatest risk of the adverse health consequences of indoor tanning," said acting FDA Commissioner Stephen Ostroff.
  • The risk of developing melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — increases by 59 percent for people who’ve been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Too many people still believe that indoor tanning is somehow safer than being out in the sun. It isn't, said Dr. Vasum Peiris, chief medical officer in the FDA's division that regulates medical devices for children.

"Indoor tanning is designed to deliver large amounts of UV (ultraviolet) radiation in a short time," Peiris told reporters.

Some of the lamps can deliver 10 to 15 times the intensity of the midday sun, he said.

The proposed new rules are an important step that will help to reduce skin cancer diagnoses and deaths, the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, which advocates in Washington on health issues, said in a statement.

“We commend the FDA for educating the public about the dangers of exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation and restricting use for our nation’s youth. Indoor tanning devices are not safe," it noted.

Tanning beds send hundreds of Americans to emergency rooms each year with burns, including to their eyes. And melanoma rates are up by 200 percent since 1973.

About4 percent of adults use tanning beds, but they're popular among college students.

"Indoor tanning is a known contributor to skin cancer, including melanoma (its most deadly form), and other skin damage. Yet, 1.6 million minors indoor tan each year, increasing their risk of skin cancer and other damage," the FDA said.

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposals, which FDA says apply to manufacturers of sunlamps and tanning beds and to tanning facility operators.