Specifically, Committee investigators found:
- Nearly all salons denied the known risks of indoor tanning. When asked whether tanning posed any health risks for fair-skinned teenage girls, 90% of the salons stated that indoor tanning did not pose a health risk. When asked about the specific risk of skin cancer, over half (51%) of the salons denied that indoor tanning would increase a fair-skinned teenager’s risk of developing skin cancer. Salons described the suggestion of a link between indoor tanning and skin cancer as “a big myth,” “rumor,” and “hype.”
- Four out of five salons falsely claimed that indoor tanning is beneficial to a young person’s health. Four out of five (78%) of the tanning salons claimed that indoor tanning would be beneficial to the health of a fair-skinned teenage girl. Several salons even said that tanning would prevent cancer. Other health benefits claimed by tanning salons included Vitamin D production, treatment of depression and low self-esteem, prevention of and treatment for arthritis, weight loss, prevention of osteoporosis, reduction of cellulite, “boost[ing] the immune system,” sleeping better, treating lupus, and improving symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Salons used many approaches to minimize the health risks of indoor tanning. During their calls, Committee investigators representing themselves as fair-skinned teenage girls were told that young people are not at risk for developing skin cancer; that rising rates of skin cancer are linked to increased use of sunscreen; that government regulators had certified the safety of indoor tanning; and that “it’s got to be safe, or else they wouldn’t let us do it.” Salons also frequently referred the investigators to industry websites that downplay indoor tanning’s health risks and tout the practice’s alleged health benefits.
- Tanning salons fail to follow FDA recommendations on tanning frequency. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that indoor tanning be limited to no more than three visits in the first week. Despite this recommendation, three quarters of tanning salons reported that they would permit first-time customers to tan daily; several salon employees volunteered that their salons did not even require 24-hour intervals between tanning sessions.
- Tanning salons target teenage girls in their advertisements. The print and online advertising for tanning salons frequently target teenage and college-aged girls with student discounts and “prom,” “homecoming,” and “back-to-school” specials. These youth-oriented specials often feature “unlimited” tanning packages, allowing frequent — even daily — tanning, despite research showing that frequent indoor tanning significantly increases the likelihood that a woman will develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, before she reaches 30 years of age.
The tanning salon industry downplays the health risks of indoor tanning, telling teenage girls that “it’s got to be safe, or else they wouldn’t let us do it.” In fact, the FDA classifies tanning beds as Class 1 medical devices, which suggests that they are safe. The Foundation strongly believes that the FDA should reclassify tanning beds to Class II (with restrictions) or possibly even Class III medical devices.
What Can You Do to Help? Indoor tanning devices should receive the maximum amount of regulation, which more closely matches the health risks of these harmful devices. Help us save lives by emailing The Skin Cancer Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org with letters of support urging the FDA to regulate tanning beds and ban those under 18 from using them. The Foundation will compile all of your emails of support and send them to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg’s office.