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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

That Golden Tan Can Be Deadly, No Matter How You Get It

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In the newly published study, reported by S. Elizabeth Whitmore, MD, and colleagues from Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 11 volunteers received 10 full-body tanning salon treatments over a two-week period, with a portion of each participant's buttock covered to provide a control. During the final tanning session, one half of the covered area was uncovered to provide a single exposure sample.

Skin biopsies and blood samples were taken from the participants after the first and last tanning sessions to determine the molecular changes in the skin and the blood. Researchers found significant elevations in two molecular cancer markers in exposed areas of the skin compared with the covered areas.

"This study is actually quite significant because it offers direct biologic evidence that even one dose of tanning causes DNA damage," Spencer says. "These biologic changes that occur as a result of tanning bed exposure could lead to cancer."

This year, just over 50,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S., and almost 8,000 people will die of the disease, according to figures from the American Cancer Society. Although it represents just 4% of skin cancers, melanoma is responsible for almost 80% of skin cancer deaths.

The American Academy of Dermatology has called on the FDA to tighten regulations aimed at the indoor tanning industry. Specifically, the Academy has asked the FDA to prohibit salon operators from claiming their product is safe, to require them to warn customers about the potential hazards of indoor tanning, and to require the written consent of a parent or guardian before minors are allowed to tan.

"Just like cigarettes, indoor tanning is a health hazard, and salon operators should be required to warn people about that," Spencer says. "It is in the industry's best interest to make it as safe as possible by making sure children aren't allowed to use their product and making sure clients know the risks." Spencer, who is director of dermatologic surgery at New York City's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has published several papers on the indoor tanning industry.

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