Federal Trade Commission Settles Charges Against the Indoor Tanning Association

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a final settlement banning the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) from making misleading or unsubstantiated health and safety claims about indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning.

In a complaint lodged against the ITA in early 2010, the FTC accused the trade group for tanning industry professionals of misleading consumers during a 2008 advertising campaign.

According to the FTC, the ITA falsely stated that indoor tanning was approved by the government; a National Academy of Sciences study found that "the risks of not getting enough ultraviolet light far outweigh the hypothetical risk of skin cancer," and that indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors because the amount of UV light received tanning indoors is monitored and controlled.

The facts contradict this: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), affiliated with the World Health Organization, states that the UV radiation emitted by tanning machines is carcinogenic [cancer-causing] to humans. This assertion is anything but hypothetical: multiple studies have shown that indoor tanners are at higher risk of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps actually may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.

David C. Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, was blunt: "The messages promoted by the tanning industry facilities fly in the face of scientific evidence. The industry needs to do a better job of communicating the risks of tanning to consumers."

In addition to the ban on misleading or unsubstantiated claims, under the settlement, any ITA ads suggesting that tanning is safe or healthy must display this disclosure: "NOTICE: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury." Declarations regarding tanning's beneficial effects on vitamin D levels in the body would require the above, plus the disclaimer: "NOTICE: You do not need to become tan for your skin to make vitamin D."