As we enter into the blah months of winter, it seems that many folks are just dying to hold on to their summer tans --and I mean that literally. Despite warnings about the health risks associated with tanning beds, the industry has never been more popular. That much I already knew, but what I didn't realize is that it is actually tweens and teens that are flocking to tanning salons in ever growing numbers.

According to a 2004 survey, 1 in 10 youths ages 11 to 18 uses a tanning bed each year. Still, around the U.S. there is no regulation in place regarding the use of tanning beds by children, tweens, and teens. Wisconsin is the only state that bans indoor tanning among kids under 16; in 28 other states, teens under 16 need parental consent or accompaniment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently recommends that adults limit tanning-bed exposure to no more than three times a week during the first week of tanning. And yet a recent survey shows that most tanning bed salons and customers ignore these guidelines. Of more than 3,600 tanning salons in 50 states, 71% admitted in the survey that they would turn a blind eye to that guideline when it came to teenage customers. Most salons said they would readily allow teenagers to tan seven times a week.

In response to this survey and the growing rate of skin cancer diagnosis in children, researchers at San Diego State University set up a study to determine just how easy it would be for tweens and teens to hit the tanning beds. They trained five female college students to pose as fair-skinned, 15-year-old first-time tanners and had them call tanning salons to inquire about services. Each time, the students asked the same questions: Could a 15-year-old use the tanning beds? How many visits would be allowed in a week? Would a parent need to be present? The survey results were published in the September issue of the journal Archives of Dermatology.

The majority of tanning salons required parental consent in the form of a phone call or written statement. Yet only 5% said they would not allow a teenager to tan. And of the establishments that allowed teen tanning, a mere 11% adhered to the FDA guidelines and said they would cap visits at three per week.

SOURCE: Pichon, L. Archives of Dermatology, September 2009; vol 145: pp 997-1002. News release, American Medical Association

Teens and tanning
Health experts are increasingly concerned about the time many teens are spending in tanning beds.