Consider the consequences
To the Editor:
From a public health perspective, I was so disappointed that our Governor vetoed a measure to protect our children younger than 18 from using tanning beds.
Tanning is dangerous, whether it is from the sun or from indoor tanning. But the dangers involved are somewhat higher from indoor tanning. In July 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that tanning devices that emit UV radiation are more dangerous than previously thought. IARC moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans.” Previously, it had categorized the devices as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
When you are out in the sun, the sun emits both UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-B rays burn the outer epidermis layer of your skin, causing sunburns. UV-A rays penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin and are often associated with allergic reactions, such as a rash. Both UV-B and UV-A rays damage the skin and can lead to skin cancer.
When you visit a tanning bed, you are exposing your skin to mainly UV-A rays, or radiation. UV-A rays break through the upper epidermis layer of the skin, activating cells known as melanocytes in the dermis layer below. Melanocytes then produce a brown pigment called melanin, which makes your skin tan.
This production, however, can get out of control. Typically, these cells clump together and form a harmless mole, but they can start to grow rapidly, stick together, and form tumors. Melanocytes can also damage the surrounding tissue of a particular mole as well. When these changes begin to occur, skin cells are then considered cancerous.
Development of cancer is a long process that may take decades. Therefore, IARC also recommended banning commercial indoor tanning for those younger than 18 years to protect them from the increased risk for melanoma and other skin cancers.
In addition to the serious risk of skin cancer, tanning can cause:
Premature aging. Tanning causes the skin to lose elasticity and wrinkle prematurely. This leathery look may not show up until many years after you’ve had a tan or sunburn.
Immune suppression. UV-B radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, leaving you more vulnerable to diseases, including skin cancer.
Eye damage. Exposure to UV radiation can cause irreversible damage to the eyes.
Allergic reaction. Some people who are especially sensitive to UV radiation may develop an itchy red rash and other adverse effects.
Advocates of tanning devices sometimes argue that using these devices is less dangerous than sun tanning because the intensity of UV radiation and the time spent tanning can be controlled. But there is no evidence to support these claims. In fact, sunlamps may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same high intensity every day of the year—unlike the sun whose intensity varies with the time of day, the season, and cloud cover.
There is particular concern about children and teens being exposed to UV rays. Intermittent exposures to intense UV radiation leading to sunburns, especially in childhood and teen years, increase the risk of melanoma, according to National Cancer Institute (NCI). Compared to an adult, a teenager has more sensitive skin, which can be easily damaged. The earlier age a person begins to tan, the higher the risk is in developing a form of skin cancer, such as melanoma, basal, and squamous cell carcinoma.
NCI reports that women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop melanoma. A 2010 study by the American Cancer Society showed that frequent users of tanning beds – those who tan for at least 50 hours, 100 sessions or 10 years – are two to three times likelier to develop melanoma than those who never tan indoors.
All use of tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer. Certain practices are especially dangerous. These include:
Failing to wear the goggles provided, which can lead to short- and long-term eye injury.
Starting with long exposures (close to the maximum time for the particular tanning bed), which can lead to burning. Because sunburn takes 6 to 48 hours to develop, you may not realize your skin is burned until it’s too late.
Failing to follow manufacturer-recommended exposure times on the label for your skin type.
Tanning while using certain medications or cosmetics that may make you more sensitive to UV rays. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.
So now you know what I know. As an adult, we have to right to make our choices and accept the risks. But, please consider the consequences before you sign off on your child.
Executive Director ,
River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition.