Shining a light on tanning salons

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Undercover investigators who called tanning salons posing as fair-skinned teenage girls (perhaps easier done over the phone than in person) have found that most tanning salons significantly downplay the health risks of indoor tanning when providing information to customers.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sponsored this investigative report, which included calls to 300 tanning salons across the country. Of these salons, 90 percent claimed that tanning beds do not pose a health risk. When asked specifically about skin cancer risks, many employees called this hype, or a big myth. Some even insisted that young individuals are not at risk of skin cancer, claiming that it was actually sunscreens that cause cancer. And further misleading teenagers about the risks of tanning, 78 percent of the salons claimed that using tanning beds actually confers some health benefits, from relieving depression to promoting weight loss.

But of course tanning beds as with any source of ultraviolet radiation, including of course the sun do pose a significant risk to users. In 2009, the World Health Organization s International Agency for Research on Cancer moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category "carcinogenic to humans.

Accordingly, the American Academy of Dermatology Association has pressed Congress and states to more strongly regulate tanning salons. They encourage others to follow the example of California, which has banned indoor tanning for people under age 18. ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees that something needs to be done to make sure that tanning salon customers are aware of the risks that they are undertaking, noting that salons should be required to prominently post that UV rays are strongly linked to skin cancer.

"These indoor tanning salons are dangerous," ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan reiterates. "They operate by damaging the skin, but people often just aren t aware of the risks. Young people especially are much more likely to be concerned with how they look than with the serious long-term health consequences they could suffer.