Feb. 25, 2013 -- Nearly two-thirds of Missouri tanning salons included in a new survey would allow children as young as 10 to use their tanning beds.
There is clear evidence that ultraviolet radiation exposure from tanning beds is associated with a higher risk of skin cancer. Even so, 65% of 243 Missouri tanning salons said they would allow children as young as 10 or 12 to use tanning beds.
The survey results are published in the journal Pediatrics.
Brundha Balaraman, MD, of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo., and colleagues, surveyed tanning salons across Missouri twice. Two medical students posing as 16-year-olds asked tanning salon employees about use of the tanning facilities.
The survey showed that 80% of tanning salons said use of a tanning bed would prevent sunburn and 43% said the practice was risk-free.
Among the businesses surveyed, 40% mentioned a risk of skin cancer. But 20% claimed there was no risk for anyone who took proper precautions.
Some tanning salon employees said tanning beds were safer than the sun, doctor recommended, or carried some other health benefit.
Regulation Varies by State
Indoor tanning is a $5 billion industry. There are more tanning salons in some cities than Starbucks or McDonalds, writes Sophie J. Balk, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., and colleagues, in an editorial.
Missouri is one of 17 states that does not regulate the use of tanning salons by minors, according to the editorial. Such policies are left up to the salons and their employees. For instance, policies regarding parental approval were inconsistent, according to the survey.
Seventy-seven percent of employees who worked in the morning requested on-site parental approval, and 47% of those who worked in the evening did.
Although most of the Missouri tanning employees -- 85% -- said eye protection was required, when the surveyor mentioned a fear of developing "raccoon eyes," 44% relented. As a result, 56% endorsed tanning without eye protection.
Only 22% of tanning employees mentioned a need to assess skin type to determine how long to tan for. Twenty percent would allow customers to start with the longest duration of exposure, although 65% recommended starting with low UV intensity.
A Call for Action
In view of the findings, the editorial authors call for an FDA ban on the use of tanning beds for anyone under 18.
"Given that one-third of states have no laws of any kind regulating minors’ tanning-bed use, and nearly all remaining states have a patchwork of regulations such as age bans, parental consent, or performance standards, it is incumbent upon the FDA to enact a national under-18 salon tanning ban," they write.
To see a version of this story for physicians, visit Medscape, the leading site for physicians and health care professionals.