Should Teens Tan? California Says No.

Oct 12, 2011 6 Comments by

Should teens be able to decide whether or not to use tanning beds? According to Aim at Melanoma Foundation, using a tanning bed before the age of 20 doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Even more staggering is that 28 million individuals in the U.S. use tanning beds each year despite the statistics, which includes 2.3 million teens.

On Sunday, October 9, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill making California the first state to prohibit minors from using tanning beds. The only exception is if a minor obtains written consent from a medical professional that they’re tanning due to a medical condition. This law will go into effect on January 1, 2012. Multiple health organizations including the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) are praising the governor for taking action.

In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, placed tanning beds in its Class 1 carcinogen category.  Cigarettes, plutonium and ultraviolet radiation from the sun are in the same category. Just like the law protects minors from the negative health effects of cigarettes, this new law in California is a way to protect teens from the negative health effects of using tanning beds. Dermatologist Ann F. Haas, MD, FAAD, past president of the California Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery says, “Melanoma incidence rates have been increasing for the last 30 years, with the most rapid increases occurring among young, white women, 3 percent per year since 1992 in those ages 15 to 39. We pushed for this legislation in the hopes of stemming that rise and encouraging other states to follow California’s lead and prohibit the use of tanning devices by minors to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in the U.S.”

Prior to the ban, the state allowed those between 14 and 17 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. Thirty-one other states have similar laws restricting minors from using tanning beds without parental consent. The remaining 18 states have no restrictions. This is frightening not only because teens who tan put their health at risk, but also because adolescents choosing to tan are still developing their decision making skills and may make bad or uneducated decisions that will affect their quality of life down the road.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), “based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to: act on impulse or engage in dangerous or risky behavior. Adolescents are also less likely to: think before they act, pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions and modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors.”

“These brain differences don’t mean that young people can’t make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong”, states an article on the AACAP website.  “It also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions. But an awareness of these differences can help parents, teachers, advocates, and policy makers understand, anticipate, and manage the behavior of adolescents.”

On top of the cognitive development argument, there is a lack of awareness on the dangers of tanning. “Many parents may not be aware that melanoma is the most common skin cancer in children, followed by basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas,” Dr. Thomas Rohrer, Secretary of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Many tanning salons tout that tanning beds are safer than outdoor tanning as they use UVA rays or that it’s good to get a base tan before vacationing in warm regions.  These claims are false. UVA rays (aging rays) are not safer than UVB rays (burning) rays and numerous studies have proven this. Additionally, getting a base tan before a sunny vacation is equivalent to the sun protection of a SPF 3 or less, and the AAD suggests using SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen and sun protective clothing for adequate sun protection.

Based on this information, would you be comfortable having your teen use a tanning bed? For every parent residing outside of the state of California, that’s for you, or your teen, to decide.

Michigan news broadcast with dermatologist insights on tanning beds.

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