FDA issues warning label for tanning bed use by minors; sponsor of bill for a state ban says he will try again

Soon tanning beds will have a “black box” warning that those younger than 18 should not be using them, but some doctors, tanning companies and legislators do not think this will be sufficient to keep minors from tanning. “Consequently, some want a new Kentucky law prohibiting bed use by minors,” Annie Garau writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lexington Herald-Leader graphic

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced May 29 new regulations that moved sunlamps from the category of low-risk devices—like dental floss and tongue depressors—to moderate-risk devices. Tanning beds are dangerous because they emit ultraviolet rays like the ones from the sun. These ultraviolet rays not only cause wrinkles and eye damage but also cause skin cancers, including melanoma, which is the most deadly kind of skin cancer, according to the FDA and local doctors.

“There’s really no way to get a tan right now without incurring the risk of cancer,” said Dr. John D’Orzio, a researcher and pediatric oncologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “I don’t want to tell people not to go outdoors at all because that would be ridiculous, but the actual ultraviolet radiation from the beds can be up to 10 times more than from standing in the sun.” D’Orazio said his biggest concern is that children under 18 have access to the tanning beds. Currently Kentucky only requires “signed parental consent for teens ages 14 to 17 and in-person parental consent for anyone younger than 14,” Garau writes.

Mark Wells and Cheryl Ledford, co-owners of Southern Rays Tanning, do not think the new warnings will turn customers away. “There has always been some kind of warning on the beds,” Ledford said, “and they haven’t stopped people from tanning.”

Wells said there are health benefits to tanning, such as increased Vitamin D, the fading of acne and getting a “base tan” indoors to prevent burning outside. D’Orazio disagreed. “A base tan is not going to help you avoid the risks,” he said. “You’re still getting ultraviolet radiation while you’re getting that base tan. Also, it really only takes about one minute of standing in the sun to get enough vitamin D. . . . This is a multibillion-dollar industry. That’s a lot of money going into downplaying the negative consequences.”

American Academy of Dermatology President Dr. Brett Coldiron said that although sometimes dermatologists prescribe phototherapy as a treatment, “The difference between phototherapy and indoor tanning is that phototherapy is closely monitored and supervised by a dermatologist. This type of medical care isn’t provided at an indoor tanning salon, where operators have minimal knowledge about the potential side effects of UV light, and tanning bed lamps have variable amounts of UVA and UVB light.”

State Rep. David Watkins, a Democrat and retired physician from Henderson, wanted to prevent Kentucky minors from using tanning beds without a medical prescription, but the Senate Health and Welfare Committee killed his House-passed bill. “I think I’m going to have to work a little harder and make sure my colleagues in the Senate understand that I’m not trying to limit freedoms,” Watkins told Garau. “I’m trying to protect some of our most vulnerable constituents.” (Read more)

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