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

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"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.

Levy agrees it is in the industry's interest to promote responsible tanning. But he adds that overtures to the American Academy of Dermatology and other medical groups have been ignored.

"They don't want to work with us, they want us to go away," Levy says. "They accuse us of saying we are providing a safe tan, but we haven't said that as an industry for over 10 years. Our message is that moderate tanning, for those individuals who can develop a tan, is the smartest way to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with either too much or too little exposure."

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