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Teens should be banned from tanning booths, doctors say

By Madison Park, CNN
Samantha Hessel, preparing for her prom in 2008, frequented the tanning salon every week.
Samantha Hessel, preparing for her prom in 2008, frequented the tanning salon every week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laws should prohibit minors from going to tanning parlors, pediatricians say
  • Tanning is a poor method of getting vitamin D, doctors say
  • Radiation from tanning beds "may be 10 to 15 times higher" than that of the midday sun
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(CNN) -- When Samantha Hessel heard about the risks associated with tanning beds, she ignored them. When her mom cautioned her not to tan so much, Hessel shrugged it off.

Her friends and peers were doing the same thing. What was the harm of lying in a tanning bed three to four times a week?

It's an activity the nation's pediatricians say is dangerous. Laws should ban minors from going to tanning parlors, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced Monday. This echoes positions of the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.

For Hessel, appearance was important. "I wanted to look good and have that darker skin color," said the student at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. "I think society makes you feel being tanned is prettier than being pasty white."

Hessel, who has porcelain features, started tanning during her freshman year of high school. By the time she was a freshman in college, Hessel had melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Guide for kids and tanning

"It felt so surreal," she said. "I'm healthy. I was 19. I couldn't understand. How could I be so young and deal with this?"

In 2009, Hessel felt an elevated mole in the back of her left arm.

It was cancerous. Doctors froze a portion of her arm and removed the mole. The surgery left a 4-inch gash.

Samantha Hessel, in her natural complexion, now advocates on behalf of the Melanoma Research Foundation.
Samantha Hessel, in her natural complexion, now advocates on behalf of the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Melanoma affects the deepest layer of the skin and poses dangers because it spreads rapidly. Since 1992 it has been increasing by 3% each year in women between the ages of 15 and 39.

"We are looking for legislation that prohibits kids from going to tanning salons. It's protecting our youth from something potentially harmful," said Dr. Sophie Balk, lead author of the statement written by an American Academy of Pediatrics committee.

The Indoor Tanning Association disagrees that tanning should be legislated.

"We're talking about getting a sun tan," said John Overstreet, the association's spokesman. "This is a decision best left for parents, not the government. Let parents make the decision."

10% tax levied on indoor tanning in health care reform last year.

He added that there is no scientific evidence that tanning is any worse at a younger age.

While kids may not be more vulnerable to skin cancers, they are less capable of making responsible decisions, said Dr. David Fisher, chief of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

"The industry has exploited this fact," he said. "They have packaged deals for repeat use."

The ads appear before prom season and offer student discounts.

"There have been a few instances where statements have been made that [ultraviolet rays] are healthy because of vitamin D. That's an extremely irresponsible concept that leads children or parents to think, 'It isn't so bad. What's wrong with looking good for prom?'"

Tanning is a poor method of getting vitamin D, doctors say. The safer methods are supplements or incidental sun exposure.

There are two types of radiation. UVA rays cause deeper damage to the skin, leading to wrinkles and DNA damage that causes the darkening. UVB rays cause sunburns. Sunlamps and tanning beds emit UVA rays that give customers a glow without a sunburn.

The intensity of the UVA radiation from tanning beds "may be 10 to 15 times higher than that of the midday sun," according to the report published in the journal Pediatrics.

While very young melanoma cases like Hessel's are rare, about a quarter of white teenagers between the ages of 13 to 19 reported using a tanning facility at least once.

Hessel's ritual would begin in late February to get ready for the prom. She paid $30 to $55 a month for unlimited tanning and would lie inside the beds for up to 20 minutes.

"It hides your pimples," she said. "It makes you feel like your skin looks less imperfect, a little bit. It makes you feel good, like a false feeling good."

Tanning "changes the sequence of DNA and carries the potential to produce different types of skin cancer," Fisher said. It causes the production of melanin, which darkens the skin.

The scar on Samantha Hessel's left arm from surgery to remove a cancerous mole.
The scar on Samantha Hessel's left arm from surgery to remove a cancerous mole.

There is "overwhelming data" to suggest that melanoma (cancer of the deepest layer of skin), basal cell carcinoma (middle layer) and squamous cell carcinoma (surface layer) are related to tanning bed use and exposure to the sun, he said.

In their quest for a glowing tan, teenagers are pre-aging their skin by 10 to 20 years, Fisher warned.

"It causes them to wrinkle later on and increases risk of skin cancer," said Balk, an attending pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, New York. "It doesn't mean everyone develops skin cancer, but it increases the risk."

Sunlight exposure is also a risk. Pediatricians recommend wearing clothes, hats with brims, sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and avoiding exposure during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sitting in the shade is not always helpful because sand, snow, concrete and water can reflect up to 85% of the sunlight.

Hessel used to slather sun tan lotion instead of sunscreen when she was outdoors. Now, she wears sunscreen all the time -- even in the Wisconsin winters.

"I feel much more OK with being pale," she said.

The risks of tanning are no longer worth the benefits -- especially after her skin cancer experience left her scarred.

"I'd rather you see my pimple than a scar on my face."

 
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