Will Tanning Beds Be Banned for Teens?

Does your teen visit a tanning salon to keep a golden glow year round? If so, he or she is not alone. In 2003, more than one quarter of teens between 15 and 18 visited a salon. Tanning bed use is increasing in teens, especially girls. So is the incidence of skin cancer.

At least 17 states are considering, or have passed, legislation to ban or restrict teens from using tanning beds.

Are tanning beds safer than sun tanning?

No. Tanning beds may actually be worse than sun tanning. A tanning bed emits primarily ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which experts believe cause cancer in humans.

Despite the perceived link between a tan and looking healthy and attractive, tanning and burning in fact cause genetic damage to skin cells, accelerating aging and increasing the risk of skin cancer. Teens are at greater risk for skin cancer because they are still growing and their skin cells divide more rapidly than adult skin cells.

As you can imagine, the tanning bed industry is fighting proposed legislation. It encourages the use of tanning beds by propagating two misleading facts.

  1. Sunburn causes melanoma, therefore controlled tanning from a tanning bed prevents sunburn by building up protection in the skin. This is not true. A base tan offers no such protection.

  2. UV exposure prompts the skin produce Vitamin D, which helps prevent certain cancers. Although vitamin D does provide protection from cancer, medical experts warn that tanning beds are not a safe alternative to a healthy diet or small doses of daily sun exposure.

Will teens heed warning about tanning beds?

Parents, doctors and others who are concerned about teen tanning bed use are fighting powerful messages from Hollywood that equate tans with attractiveness.

However, there's a new voice taking up the fight: Kayla Collier, former Miss Florida Teen USA. Collier began using a tanning bed at 15 to prepare for pageants. A year later, she was diagnosed with skin cancer. Now cancer free, Collier is campaigning for a bill to ban tanning beds for teens 16 and younger.

State bills proposing restrictions on teen use of tanning beds vary. California, for example, bans children under 14 from using a tanning bed without a doctor's prescription. Ohio currently requires parental approval but legislators are considering a bill to outright ban teens from using them.

If you're the parent of a teen, inform your child about the high risk of deadly skin cancer from tanning beds.