The perils of indoor tanning
Written by: Danielle Paterson, Executive Director, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund
DCMF’s mission is to save lives from melanoma through prevention and research. On the prevention side, we are committed to empowering people to protect and check their skin to reduce their risk of melanoma. Due to deeply rooted social and fashion norms, convincing people to protect their skin from the sun is no small task. Convincing people to stop indoor tanning is just as difficult.
Why are we concerned about indoor tanning? Simply put, we are concerned because indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma. In fact, one study demonstrates that people who have ever used indoor tanning equipment have a 74% chance of developing melanoma compared with those who did not tan indoors. The study also demonstrated that the risk of melanoma is consistently higher among those who started using indoor tanning at a young age and among frequent users. The link between melanoma and indoor tanning is so clear that in 2009, the World Health Organization classified indoor tanning devices as Class I human carcinogens, on par with tobacco and asbestos.
Despite these troubling facts, indoor tanning remains prevalent, especially among young women. In Canada, a recent study revealed that more than 25% of women aged 16 to 24 tan indoors. In the U.S., nearly one out of every three young white women aged 16 to 25 uses indoor tanning. Further, 13% of American high school students tanned indoors in 2012. Worldwide, a 2014 study revealed, that there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking.
We are very encouraged that legislation around the world is emerging to protect people from indoor tanning. This includes bans for youth under 18 and health warning labels. Although very promising, most jurisdictions still lack formal legislation, leaving many people, and especially young people, with full access to indoor tanning.
The disconnect between the serious health risks of indoor tanning and its regular usage by many is puzzling leading us to wonder:
- Are the health messages that explain the risks of indoor tanning not reaching people?
- Are these health messages not compelling enough?
- Are people driven to tan indoors because of myths such as ‘base tans’ providing protection from the sun?
- Are the perceived short-term ‘beauty benefits’ of a tan considered more important than the long-term health risks?
- How do we correct the myth that indoor tanning is a ‘safe way to tan’.
- How can we empower people to refrain from using indoor tanning in advance of their prom or vacation?
- What does it take for someone to change their behaviour and step out of the tanning bed for good?
What we do know for certain is that no tan is worth the risk of melanoma. We also know attitudes towards tanning need to change so that people can ‘love the skin they are in’. DCMF will continue our efforts to help others feel the same way.