Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Wellness Forum Health 

The use of tanning beds is seen as a safe alternative to sun exposure by many people. But a growing body of evidence shows that indoor tanning may increase the risk of skin cancer.

A study including 681 patients diagnosed with melanoma before age 50 showed that indoor tanning significantly increased the risk of melanoma skin cancer when compared to matched controls without cancer.

Women under the age of 40 reported starting indoor tanning when they were adolescents at an average age of 16, while women between 40 and 49 reported starting at an average age of 25. Younger women also reported that they tanned more often – an average of 100 sessions, compared to 40 sessions for the older women.

Women under 30 who patronized tanning salons were six times more likely than non-tanners to develop melanoma than women in the comparison group. The risk was dose dependent – the more tanning sessions the women had the more likely they were to develop melanoma. Melanoma on the trunk was also more common with indoor tanners.

Lead author DeAnn Lazovich said that the results of this study were similar to results of a 2011 Australian study that looked at the same issue.  She stated that the World Health Organization classified artificial ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning equipment as a cause of cancer in 2009. She added that the increased usage of tanning beds by women compared to men explains why melanoma rates have increased more among women than among men.  Lazovich also said that melanomas on the trunk are more common in people who use tanning beds because the trunk is more exposed in tanning beds than when individuals spend time outdoors and tend to cover up more of their bodies.

The use of indoor tanning should be discouraged, and instead people should be educated as to the benefits of sun exposure and how to tan safely and naturally.  Guidelines include avoiding the use of sunscreen, limiting time in the sun to 15-20 minutes at the beginning of the season, gradually increasing the amount of time that can be spent in the sun without burning; and covering up, sitting in the shade, or going indoors to avoid sunburn.

While parental consent is required in order for minors to use tanning beds, consent forms should have stronger wording, and also be required for adults. Language about the risks associated with using tanning beds should be much stronger, and the benefits of sun exposure should be included. Clear risks and benefits would most likely result in reduced use of tanning beds and corresponding decrease in the incidence of melanoma.

Lazovich D, Isaksson R, Vogel M et al. “Association Between Indoor Tanning and Melanoma in Younger Men and Women.” JAMA Dermatol Published online January 27, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.2938

Kathryn Doyle “Indoor Tanning Linked to Melanoma Among Young Women.”

Medscape February 03, 2016