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Indoor Tanning and Teens: Risky Mix?

Study Raises Concerns About Tanning Booth Use Among Teens

WebMD Health News

Sept. 12, 2003 -- Fake baking, going for the glow, whatever you call indoor tanning, teenagers may be ignoring health risks in favor of getting a golden tan in any weather.

A new study shows 28% of teenage girls and 7% of teenage boys have used indoor tanning booths at least three times or more.

Researchers say it's the first real estimate of how often teens use indoor tanning salons and suggests that a large number of American teens may be ignoring the risks associated with ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.

"Repeated exposure to UV rays, such as those absorbed during indoor tanning, can cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin," says researcher Catherine A. Demko, PhD, of Case Western University, in a news release. "The majority of teens do not have an appreciation of the risk of skin cancers, scars from surgeries to try and remove them, mottled pigmentation, and sagging, wrinkled skin."

Demko says the predominant UV-A component of indoor tanning lights is a major culprit in premature aging of the skin because it penetrates skin layers more deeply and causes more damage.

Indoor Tanning Linked to Other Risks

In the study, published in this month's issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, researchers analyzed data from 6,903 white teenagers aged 13 to 19 years who participated in a nationwide survey in 1996.

They found that nearly 37% of teenage girls and 11% of boys reported using an indoor tanning booth at least once in their life, and 28% and 7% of girls and boys, respectively, reported using them three or more times.

The study shows that the popularity of tanning booths also increased with age in girls. Eleven percent of 13- to 14-year-olds reported using indoor tanning booths more than three times, but that number grew to 47% among 18- to 19-year-olds.

Researchers found that indoor tanning use was also associated with other high-risk behaviors, such as alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana use and dieting regardless of body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height used to indicate overweight).

Other factors that increased the likelihood of indoor tanning use were if the teen lived in the Midwest or South, attended a rural high school, or tanned easily.

But girls who participated in routine physical activity were less likely to use tanning booths.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Robert P. Dellavalle, MD, PhD, of the University of Colorado, and colleagues propose introducing an indoor tanning booth tax to encourage the industry to develop safer tanning treatments and educate youth about the dangers of UV exposure.

Indoor Tanning Industry Questions Study

But the indoor tanning industry says the findings of the study are flawed and don't address issues associated with other types of UV exposure.

"Most importantly, the research fails to address key public health questions about UV exposure: How much total exposure to UV light do teens receive, and do teens use the right amount of sunscreen outdoors?" says Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association, in a news release.

Humiston points out that federal experts have recently said that vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic in American society, and UV exposure from indoor tanning booths provide a valuable source of vitamin D.

Ultraviolet light from sunlight or artificial sources interacts with chemicals in human skin to produce vitamin D. But experts say the amount of UV exposure required to meet the daily recommended amount of vitamin D is much less than the amount of time people spend in an indoor tanning booth.

Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption and also helps prevent abnormal cell growth within the body.

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