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California Bans Tanning Beds for Teens

SUMMARY: While waiting for the FDA to put in place more stringent regulations for tanning bed use, California has passed a law that prevents minors from using the artificial means for a bronze glow.
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While waiting for the FDA to put in place more stringent regulations for tanning bed use, California has passed a law that prevents minors from using the artificial means for a bronze glow.

As we head into fall and winter, when summer tans fade, many turn to tanning salons as a way to preserve that sun-kissed look, but unless you are 18 in California, you are prevented from doing so. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on Sunday, making California the first state to ban tanning bed use in minors under the age of 18.

It is estimated that 30 million people go to tanning salons, and up to 35 percent of 17-year-old girls will use a tanning bed. In addition, almost 25 percent of white teenagers reported at least one session in the tanning bed. But by doing so they take risks with their health; from infections, to burns, to skin cancer, the indoor UV rays can cause harm, especially from repeated use.

The tan itself comes from the use of ultraviolet light, which can trigger the release of endorphins, hence a “feel good” state that isn’t just imagined. That ultraviolet light can damage the DNA of cells.  

A 2009 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer division of the World Health Organization, classified tanning beds that emit UV radiation as “carcinogenic to humans”—the agency’s highest cancer-risk category, which also includes radon gas, plutonium, radium, tobacco and the hepatitis B virus.

Studies have shown that consumers using tanning beds had a 74 percent increased risk for melanoma compared to those who never frequented a tanning salon. And for those who spend more than 50 hours under those indoor UV rays, the risk triples. Even worse, the newer high-pressure tanning beds can increase the risk to four times.

The most common skin cancer among children is melanoma, which is also the most deadly form of skin cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the estimated number of new cases of melanoma in the United States in 2010 totaled 68,130, with 8,700 lives claimed by the disease. Melanoma affects the deepest layer of the skin and spreads rapidly. The disease has been increasing by 3 percent a year among women between the ages of 15 and 39 since 1992.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out strongly in favor of legislation that would prevent children from using tanning beds or other artificial tanning devices. This move was in agreement with a growing number of advocacy groups, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology.

There is a need for early education for teens, especially important among those with fair-skin who freckle or sunburn easily, or with a family history of melanoma. Only six sunburns in a lifetime increase the risk for melanoma by 50 percent. Wearing proper clothing and hats are advised, in addition to applying sunscreen and wearing sunglasses.

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