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Indoor Tanners Are Often Given Bad Information

Survey Shows Widespread Failure to Inform Customers of Potential Dangers

WebMD Health News

Jan. 5, 2005 -- Want a golden tan to perk you up this winter, but aren't sure about the safety of those commercial tanning beds? You could ask the person who runs the tanning salon, but you probably won't get the right answer, according to an investigation by Consumer Reports.

Employees of the magazine called 296 tanning facilities in 12 cities to ask specific questions about the safety of indoor tanning. Many of the salon operators they talked to downplayed the potential risks, and some wrongly claimed that tanning beds cannot cause skin cancer or premature aging of the skin.

Among the survey findings:

  • 75% said it was safe to tan every day, even though the callers identified themselves as beginning tanners. The FDA recommends no more than three visits to a commercial tanning facility during the first week, with frequency after that determined by skin type and the type of bed used.

  • Just over a third of those questioned wrongly indicated that indoor tanning could not cause skin cancer, wrinkles, or both.

  • About two-thirds of those questioned said extremely pale-skinned people who burn but never tan outdoors could come in for tanning or an evaluation. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is especially dangerous for these people and the National Tanning Training Institute, an industry organization, recommends that they do not use tanning beds.

  • More than 20% said they would accept minors as customers without parental permission.

1 in 100 Got All Questions Right

Ron Buchheim, the deputy health editor of Consumer Reports, tells WebMD that the investigation was prompted by several smaller studies indicating that a significant percentage of tanning salon operators ignores safety regulations.

"People who are not aware of the risks or who are not telling customers about them may not be doing all that they can to protect their customers," he says.

Only 1% of the salon operators surveyed answered all the questions appropriately, according to the article in Consumer Reports. Most of the respondents gave "false, questionable, or inadequate" answers to between three and four questions.

The Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, is calling for all states to adopt licensing regulations that would require tanning bed operators to undergo training and get parental consent before accepting minors as customers. About half of states have no regulations on commercial tanning facilities, according to Consumer Reports.

A spokesman for the tanning industry questioned the objectivity of the survey, adding that it is in the industry's best interest to give customers accurate information about tanning and to educate staffers about safety.

"Most salon operators do train their staffs because there are inherent dangers in being burned, and salons don't want to burn their customers," Indoor Tanning Association executive director John Overstreet tells WebMD. "It is in their business interest, as well as the client's interest, to have trained people working there."

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