You might think that a session or two in a tanning bed to look good before a big social event is no big deal — and many women start this habit in high school.
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But a recent study that looked at the potential impact of tanning beds says reducing indoor tanning could reduce the number of people developing melanoma, the number of people dying from melanoma, and the costs of treating this deadly disease.
The study, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, focused on people younger than age 18. Young people are especially sensitive to the ultraviolet (UV) rays that tanning beds emit.
The researchers estimated that restricting indoor tanning among minors under age 18 could prevent 61,839 cases of melanoma and prevent 6,735 deaths each year.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the pigmented cells in the skin. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is responsible for more than 9,000 deaths in the United States each year, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Earlier research has shown that people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. Even occasional sunbed use has been shown to almost triple your chances of developing melanoma.
More tanning means more risk
The study’s results are consistent with what doctors know about melanoma — the younger a person starts tanning, the higher their risk is of developing the disease, says dermatologist Thomas Knackstedt, MD.
Indoor tanning is a known risk factor for developing skin cancers, including melanoma, Dr. Knackstedt says.
“Other studies have shown that just one instance of indoor tanning increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by up to 79%,” Dr. Knackstedt says.
Even though this study focused on reducing indoor tanning among teens, it’s important to note that indoor tanning isn’t safe at any age, for anyone, Dr. Knackstedt says. He said sunless tanning sprays are a better option and are recognized as safe because they are only applied to the top layer of the skin.
Yet, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), more than 1.6 million teens tan indoors each year.
“We know that the longer you tan, the more hours you’re under the lamp, the more sessions you go to and the number of years that you do that, those all individually serve as risk factors for melanoma,” Dr. Knackstedt says.
Anyone can get melanoma
Despite all of the research that had been done on melanoma, Dr. Knackstedt says that many people still are misinformed about who can develop skin cancer and think that only fair-skinned people are at risk.
“Any type of skin can develop melanoma. Certainly the darker one’s skin-type is, the more protective the pigment is against any sort of sun damage,” Dr. Knackstedt says. “But we see melanoma in very fair-skinned people, and we also see it very dark-skinned people.”