In 2011, we reported that many young women were using indoor tanning beds despite knowing the serious cancer risks. Now, the problem has gotten so bad that its warranted a call to action from the U.S. acting Surgeon General, Boris D. Lushniak. A call to action is a detailed, science-backed document intended to solve a public health problem by stimulating action throughout the country. The call to action addresses both indoor and outdoor tanning. According to Lushniak, skin cancer is a “major health problem” whose chief cause involves overexposure to ultraviolet light, regardless of where it comes from. The announcement comes only two months after the FDA revealed it would be putting black box warnings on tanning beds and sunlamps. In short, all people are encouraged to stop tanning, use sunscreen and stay out of the sun whenever possible to prevent cancer.
Skin Cancer is a Growing Concern
Despite rates actually decreasing for some types of cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 63,000 new melanoma diagnoses are made each year. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, causing almost 9,000 deaths annually. Also, every year:
- U.S. citizens spend a total of $8.1 billion to treat skin cancer
- 5 million people in the U.S. receive skin cancer treatment
- Over one-third of Americans report getting sunburned, which is a major factor in getting skin cancer
- 400,000 cases of skin cancer are related to indoor tanning, 6,000 of which involve melanomas
- One-third of young white women report tanning indoors
More and more people seem to have become aware of the dangers of tanning, however, as the number of teens under the age of 18 that admit to indoor tanning has dropped from 15.6 percent in 2009 to 12.8 percent in 2013. At the same time, an American Academy of Dermatology survey conducted last year indicated that societal conceptions of beauty are still connected firmly to having a tan. In fact, 80 percent of people under 25 considered themselves to be more attractive with a tan.
Dangers of Tanning: The Bottom Line
Lushniak has indicated that the dangers associated with indoor tanning are “completely avoidable.” He calls on businesses, schools and urban planners to provide shady places in order for people to protect themselves. He also said that state governments should consider a ban on allowing minors to tan indoors, which some states have already done.
It must be remembered that people of all skin tones can suffer from the dangers of tanning. If you want to avoid potentially fatal skin cancer, be sure to stay out of the sun this summer. Wearing hats, finding shade and using sunscreen can also be helpful. Try your best to resist the cultural temptation to get a tan, and don’t allow your children to cave to the pressure either. The full text of the Surgeon General’s call to action can be read as a PDF here.