Tanning Industry Is Seriously Misleading Public, Congressional Study Finds

Tanning salons routinely provide inaccurate information to teens seeking their services, according to a new congressional report from members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The study found that the vast majority of tanning salons contacted by Committee investigators denied the serious health risks (including skin cancer) associated with indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning, instead claiming that indoor tanning offers health benefits. Committee investigators representing themselves as fair-skinned teenage girls telephoned 300 tanning salons nationwide, including at least three in each state and the District of Columbia. Investigators questioned each salon about its policies and the risks and benefits of tanning. They also reviewed the salons’ print and online advertising. The misinformation being given was remarkable: 

Ninety percent of the salons stated that indoor tanning did not pose a health risk for fair-skinned teenage girls. When asked specifically about skin cancer risk, 51 percent of the salons denied that indoor tanning would increase a fair-skinned teenager’s risk of developing skin cancer. Salons described the suggestion of a link between indoor tanning and skin cancer as “a big myth,” “rumor,” and “hype.”

• Seventy eight percent of salons claimed that indoor tanning would benefit the health of a fair-skinned teenage girl. Several salons even said that tanning would prevent cancer. They also informed callers that rising rates of skin cancer are linked to increased use of sunscreen, and that government regula- tors had certified the safety of indoor tanning. (All of these statements are false.)

Tanning salons fail to follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations on tanning frequency. The FDA recommends that indoor tanners be limited to no more than three visits in the first week. However, three quarters of tanning salons reported that they would permit first-time customers to tan daily.

Tanning salons target teenage and college-aged girls. Salons offer student discounts and “prom,” “homecoming,” and “back-to-school” specials in their print and online advertising.

“Tanning beds are brightly lit, cancer- causing coffins — plain and simple,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, one of the representatives who requested the study. “This report shows that teenage girls are being targeted by the tanning industry.” Melanoma and other skin cancers have been linked to tanning bed use in several studies. Melanoma is now the most common form of cancer among young adults 25-29 years old.

Published on June 18, 2012