Risky business

December 1, 2006

And, says the AAD, a 2005 study shows that regular exposure to tanning beds significantly elevates a person's risk for developing melanoma.

Schaumburg, Ill. - The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is aiming to educate young people about the risks of indoor tanning in a teen-targeted multimedia public-service-announcement (PSA) campaign.

Anchored by television and radio spots and print ads that highlight the risks of skin damage that indoor tanning can cause, the PSA campaign also takes advantage of a medium used by millions of teenagers every day: computer instant messaging (IM). According to the AAD, more than 53 million American computer users - the majority of them teens - communicate through IM, and the AAD campaign is sending its message to teens via IM and by posting ads on teen-friendly Web sites such as http://myspace.com/.

The crux of that message is that more than a million Americans patronize tanning salons every day - and that 70 percent of that number constitute Caucasian girls and women ages 16 to 49. Those statistics are trending upward, says the AAD, despite research indicating that indoor tanning can lead to various kinds of skin damage including skin cancer.

"The tanning industry promotes the idea that indoor tanning is safe, which it's not, and studies back that up," Dr. Kauvar says. "They claim they can provide 'base tans' that will protect against the sun, which is untrue, and market the concept that vitamin D can best be supplied by UV light, thus making tanning healthy for you, when the fact is that sufficient amounts of vitamin D can easily be acquired through diet - specifically milk and other dairy products - and through supplements."

Raising the risk

According to AAD statistics, nearly 112,000 new cases of melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - were diagnosed in the United States this year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen.

And, says the AAD, a 2005 study shows that regular exposure to tanning beds significantly elevates a person's risk for developing melanoma - and that the risk is even higher for indoor tanners who are younger than 26.

Susan Weinkle, M.D., a Bradenton, Fla., dermatologist, says she's concerned about the increasing number of young people using indoor tanning facilities.

"I'm seeing more and more younger patients who use tanning salons and who've developed skin problems as a result," she says. "People think they're going to be safe tanning indoors, and that's not necessarily true. I know studies that say that some tanning lamps and beds are actually more dangerous because they emit UV rays that are 15 times stronger than sunlight."

The $5-billion-a-year tanning industry disputes claims that indoor tanning is risky.

On its Web site, the Washington-based Indoor Tanning Association notes that the Food and Drug Administration "provides extensive regulation of the indoor tanning industry (and requires) each tanning device to bear detailed consumer information about avoiding overexposure."

The site offers the following statements on the dangers of UV light, base tans and the acquisition of vitamin D: