The "beautiful" tan that teens are getting today may come back to haunt them years from now as their skin shows irreversible signs of aging and worse, develops cancer. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology have been saying for years that tanning -- whether from the sun or artificial sources -- was dangerous and have urged action that would ban the sale and use of tanning equipment for non-medical purposes altogether. It's a message teen-agers should take to heart.
Now, a new study published yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that those who used tanning lamps were 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell cancer and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell cancer than those who didn't use the tanning gear. If adults choose to damage their health through tanning, that's their problem. But just as young people may not legally drink alcohol or use tobacco products, so too they should be protected from tanning devices.
Irreversible damage: The dangers of tanning have been known for years, but the tanning industry has maintained that while suntans may be a danger, tanning devices are not a problem. The Federal Trade Commission, however, states that "exposure to tanning salon rays increases the damage caused by sunlight. This occurs because ultraviolet light actually thins the skin, making it less able to heal."
But while a sunburn may be seen and felt immediately, much of ultraviolet damage does not emerge until years or even decades later. The young woman who wants to look tan in her prom dress doesn't realize that her lovely 16-year-old skin might need surgery to remove skin cancers 20 years later. Or the young man who thinks his buff body looks better with a rich tan, could look far older than his actual years as his skin begins to wrinkle and sag prematurely.
Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., the lead researcher of the study, said that the risk was highest for those who first used the tanning devices before the age of 20. For this group, she said, the squamous cell cancer risk was 3.6 times greater than the controls. The basal cell cancer risk was 1.8 times greater.
Because legislative changes are a long-term proposition, parents shouldn't wait to keep their children out of the sun and out of tanning parlors. The kids may be angry now, but they'll be far more concerned years from now if they are diagnosed with skin cancer.