FDA Advises Tanning Bed Restrictions for Minors
< Mar. 31, 2010 > -- Looking for a way to protect teens and other consumers from skin cancer, a panel of U.S. health advisers is recommending a potential ban on the use of tanning beds by people younger than 18.
"Given the absence of any demonstrated benefit, I think it's an obligation for us to ban artificial tanning for those under 18," says panelist Michael Olding, M.D. Others on the panel, however, say scientific evidence is not clear enough to warrant a total ban.
The panel, which is part of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Medical Devices Advisory Committee, was asked to examine the latest data on the risks of ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure from tanning beds. According to the agency, research now shows an association between skin cancer and the use of tanning lamps.
New Regulations Would Make Tanning Bed Dangers Clearer
Other recommendations from the panel of advisers to the FDA include:
Several states already require parental consent for use of tanning beds for those younger than 18. But the new FDA requirements would apply nationally. While not required to follow the advice of its advisory panels, the FDA usually does so.
"We are hoping the FDA will reclassify tanning beds," says Allan Halpern, M.D., vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. As it stands right now, the devices are subject to few regulations and little oversight, according to Dr. Halpern.
The foundation would like to see the classification of tanning beds changed in a way that would prevent the devices from containing mirrors, which amplify the power of UV exposure. Re-classification would also allow the FDA to limit the levels of radiation the devices emit and make other design changes.
In order to better educate the public about their danger, tanning beds should be required to have clearer warning labels, the foundation says. Manufacturers should also be forced to keep a registry monitoring the use of their products.
"UV light is a known cause of cancer," Dr. Halpern explains. "That's recognized by the U.S. government, and by the World Health Organization. And what tanning beds do is deliver UV light."
Skin Cancer Rates Rising in Young Women
William James, M.D., president of the American Academy of Dermatology, says his group has seen a significant increase in skin cancer cases among women in their teens and twenties. "What was formerly considered a disease of older men is ballooning in young women, the very target audience and number one customer of the tanning industry," he notes.
The use of tanning beds by young girls and women is growing -- as is their incidence of skin cancer," Dr. Halpern notes. "There is one calculation that as many as a quarter of the melanomas in young women can be attributed directly to tanning bed use."
However, representatives for the Indoor Tanning Association told the panel that the industry is already being squeezed by a 10 percent tax on tanning included in the health overhaul plan that recently became law. The association's executive director, John Overstreet, maintains that the industry is already well-regulated.
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Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer
Avoiding tanning beds is an important way to prevent not only skin cancer, but also premature skin aging, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Studies show that UVA rays, which most tanning beds use, penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays.
Year-around sunscreen use can also help defend against sun damage that can cause skin cancer, age spots, and wrinkles. You can get sunburned on cloudy days, and even in winter. Choose a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of at least 15. Be sure it blocks UVA rays, along with UVB.
About 30 minutes before going out, apply sunscreen to your face, neck, scalp, and ears, as well as the backs of your hands or any other places likely to be exposed to sun. Also, use lip balm or gloss with an SPF of 15 or more.
Other defensive moves for your skin include the following:
Always consult your physician for more information.