Tanning Beds Join Cigarettes, with New Federal Warning Labels


Intent on curbing the rise of melanoma, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requiring tanning bed manufacturers to warn consumers about the risks of using indoor tanning beds.

The risks of indoor tanning

JAMA Dermatology recently reported that more than 35 percent of American adults have used tanning beds at some point, as well as 59 percent of college students and 17 percent of teens. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, just one indoor tanning session raises the risk of melanoma by 59 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the risk of melanoma is 75 percent higher in people who have been exposed to indoor tanning radiation by age 35. Alarmed physician groups have asked the FDA to set new regulations on tanning beds.

As the use of tanning beds has risen, so has the prevalence of skin cancer. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer among young adults, with rates rising faster among girls and women ages 15 to 29 than in males of the same age group. In just over two decades, the incidence of melanoma has risen 3 percent annually in white women ages 15 to 39, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma is likely to cause 9,710 deaths in 2014.

Will warning labels help prevent melanoma?

Many believe placing warning labels on tanning beds will help as much as federal warning labels on cigarettes and tobacco products. However, the FDA is also requiring manufacturers to meet specific safety and design requirements, including the installation of timers and the reduction of radiation levels.

The FDA previously classified tanning machines as low-risk, Class I devices that appear in the same group as dental floss and Q-tips. Now, tanning beds and sun lamps are classified as moderate-risk, Class II devices, meaning the FDA may review safety and design features before the products are sold by manufacturers.

The FDA is now requiring safety warnings on tanning booths, tanning lamps and other products. These warnings must explicitly state that the products should not be used in people under age 18 due to heightened skin cancer risk from early-age exposure. The warnings will begin appearing on new equipment in a couple months, and all existing equipment should include labels by the end of 2015.

Warning labels are not a cure-all, but they could help curb melanoma in states where minors are allowed to use tanning beds. Many states currently restrict tanning in minors or require parental consent before kids, usually defined as anyone under age 14, can tan. Eight states have completely banned indoor tanning for anyone age 18 or under. Other states are working on similar legislation. Some states, like Arizona, require public schools to educate students on the risks of developing skin cancer.