Indoor Tanning Bad, Docs Say

Visiting a tanning salon is bad for your health, dermatologists argue.

Not so, says a tanning industry trade group. They say the dermatologists have a "political agenda" — and that indoor tanning is actually good for you.

Dermatologists have warned for years that indoor tanning can cause skin cancer and should be avoided. The doctors' latest broadside comes in a selective review of scientific evidence on the risks and benefits of indoor tanning. Researcher Jody A. Levine, M.D., is a pediatrician and senior dermatology resident at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"We know that ultraviolet radiation is a carcinogen just like tobacco," Levine tells WebMD. "Radiation use has been declared a carcinogen by the National Institutes of Health. And the World Health Organization recognizes that no person under 18 should use a sun bed."

Levine and colleagues conclude that indoor tanning is a dangerous practice — especially for teens. The American Academy of Dermatology and the American Medical Association have called for a ban on the sale and use of tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes. And the FDA and CDC each encourage people to avoid the use of tanning beds and sun lamps.

Industry Calls Foul

Levine and colleagues' report appears in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. They admit their paper is a "narrative" review — that is, it's based on selected studies and not on a systematic review of all studies relating to the issues involved.

That's not fair, says Melissa Haynes, spokeswoman for the Indoor Tanning Association. The ITA is an industry trade group representing bed tanning salons, manufacturers, and distributors as well as makers of spray-on tanning products.

"It upsets us that the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, a well-respected journal, chose to publish an article — based entirely on a narrative review — that serves no purpose other than furthering the AAD's political agenda," Haynes tells WebMD. "I don't think there is any other purpose of this journal article. And that does a disservice to the AAD."

But Levine is upset, too. She says that successful lobbying by the multibillion dollar tanning industry stifles effective safety regulations.

"Despite continual evidence that indoor tanning is harmful to our health, it has been difficult to pass regulations that limit its use among both teens and adults," Levine says.

Death From Indoor Tanning?

Levine and Haynes agree on one thing: Indoor tanning is very popular. On an average day, more than a million Americans patronize the nation's 50,000 tanning facilities.

Levine says 2.3 million teenagers are among the 28 million annual indoor tanning clients in the U.S. Haynes disputes this figure. She says fewer than 5% of users are under 18.