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FDA Proposes Warning Labels on Tanning Beds

Friday, May 10, 2013

The federal Food and Drug Administration has proposed new regulations that would require tanning beds to bear warning labels and tighten agency controls on their operations.    

It’s past time for the FDA to take action against these dangerous devices.  Experts have long known, as the agency itself acknowledged in its proposed regulation, that “melanoma… is currently the second leading type of cancer in young adults, and many experts believe that at least one cause for this is the increasing use of sunlamp products by this population.”

Some 33 states have restricted teens’ access to tanning beds, but the FDA has not proposed to take that ban nationwide.  Instead, it wants to label the devices with a relatively mild and uninformative phrase:  “Attention: This sunlamp product should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years."  

The FDA wants to classify tanning beds and sunlamps as “moderate risk” medical devices, which will give the agency more power to regulate them.   It proposes that consumers be provided brochures that warn them that tanning beds should not be used by teens and people with a personal or family history of skin cancer. This is a weaker version of the World Health Organization’s advice, issued in 2009, and is not likely to convince teens to stop tanning.

The FDA should take a stronger stand against indoor tanning beds, particularly for teens. An obvious step would be to inform users clearly that tanning beds cause skin cancer.

Five years ago WHO declared that tanning beds caused melanoma.  It recommended that everyone avoid tanning beds, particularly:

·      Anyone younger than 18;

·      People who tend to freckle or burn instead of tanning;

·      People with light colored hair, light eyes and light skin that burns easily:

·      People who have a history of frequent sunburns in childhood, have been diagnosed with pre-malignant or malignant skin lesions or have a family history of skin cancer

Melanoma rates have risen 1.9 percent a year since 2000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Melanoma diagnosis is rarer in teens, but the rate of increase for teenagers is similar:  2 percent increase per year between 1973 and 2009.   

All the causes of melanoma are not known, but the consensus among scientists is that tanning beds are a major factor in the troubling statistical trends.  The American Academy of Dermatology says that tanning bed use increases a person’s melanoma risk by 35 percent. The risk of melanoma goes up when you use a tanning bed at any age, but the International Agency for Research on Cancer calculates that if you start using tanning beds before you’re 30, your risk of developing melanoma jumps by 75 percent.  One reason for this dramatic increase -- tanning beds can expose users to 10 to 15 times more skin-damaging ultraviolet A rays than they would get in intense sunlight.  

Sunscreens aren’t enough

Some sunscreen users face much the same risks as indoor tanners.  In fact, sunscreen modifies sunlight so that it is similar to the light emitted by tanning beds. American sunscreens, particularly those with SPFs above 50+, are much better at protecting skin from sunburn, caused primarily by high-energy UVB rays, than at deflecting lower-intensity UVA rays. People applying high SPF sunscreens may not get a burn, but the product allows them to spend far longer than they should in intense sunlight. UVA rays, which are longer and more penetrating than UVB rays, are linked to melanoma, rapid aging and other insidious skin damage, particularly over many years.

EWG recommends that people do not use tanning beds or sunbathe. Make every effort to avoid getting sunburned -- a painful reminder you’ve subjected your skin to far too much UV exposure.

You can’t rely on a burn as an indicator of skin damage. Sunscreen doesn’t fully shield your skin from UV damage and should not be your first line of defense against the sun. Cover up with a hat and clothing, and avoid midday sun when its intensity peaks. Use EWG’s annual sunscreen database to pick sunscreens with the strongest UVA protection.

If you’ve used indoor tanning beds in the past or have a history of sunburns and sun damage you are at increased risk for melanoma and other skin cancers. Check your skin regularly for new moles that are tender or growing. Ask your primary care doctor how often you should see a dermatologist.



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