Tanning Industry Fights the Blistering Truth: That Tanning Beds Raise the Risk of Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

A recent article in MedPage Today highlighted the birth of a new tanning salon industry-sponsored group that has the sole intent of refuting well-established and peer-reviewed science showing the dangers of tanning bed use.

The new group – the American Suntanning Association (ASA) – which, intentionally or not, seemed to receive cozy treatment in the article, has as one of its primary goals, says ASA board member Diane Lucas: “to address and factually dispel these myths and educate the public about intelligent, practical sun care for tanners and nontanners,”

Such industry-sponsored groups have been around ever since health research has performed science running counter to industry interests, perhaps reaching its audacious peak with the battle over big tobacco.  And well-funded industries continue to mount campaigns against sound science.

The reality of tanning bed use, however, is that it significantly raises the risk of skin cancer – both deadly melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.  A 2012 analysis of over 25 studies found that having ever used a tanning bed raised the risk of melanoma by 20 percent compared to those who had never used a tanning bed.  Use in early life boosted risk even more.  Using a tanning bed before age 35 raised the risk of melanoma nearly 90 percent.  A similar analysis of 12 studies of non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) found similar results with age and history of use.  These are important numbers that show a big population impact.

Tanning bed use is a clear health risk and has been deemed carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). And it may even be an addictive activity, especially for youth, who are most vulnerable to its effects.   

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) – a public policy entity of the American Academy of Dermatology – goes so far as to support a total ban on tanning beds except for medical use.  Outside of an outright ban, the AADA recommends:

  1. Prohibiting access to indoor tanning for minors (under 18 years old)
  2. Educating all indoor tanning customers about the skin cancer risks and requiring their informed consent
  3. Implementing and enforcing labeling recommendations outlined in the Tanning Accountability and Notification (TAN) Act
  4. Encouraging enforcement of state regulations
Given the overwhelming evidence of tanning bed risks, it’s unlikely the American Suntanning Association will gather much traction.  With some luck, it’ll be a fruitless fight against the blistering truth.

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