Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association ran an editorial about the dangers of tanning beds.
Until recently, the FDA regulated indoor tanning devices as “class I medical devices.” They said the tanning beds presented minimal risk.
But about a year ago, the FDA gave itself the authority to regulate indoor tanning equipment as “class II medical devices.” The agency promptly issued “black box” warnings about this equipment because they increase the risk of skin cancer. Then they further justified the new regulation, incorrectly claiming tanning devices have no therapeutic benefit.
The truth is, tanning beds aren’t all bad for everyone.
First, beginning in the 1970s, dermatologists started to use tanning devices to treat a variety of skin conditions, including psoriasis. And with great success.
Secondly, the FDA’s blithe assumption ignores the importance of healthy UV exposure. In fact, the human body needs some UV exposure to activate vitamin D production in the skin. Plus, sunlight exposure triggers your skin to release nitric oxide, which helps lower blood pressure.
In my opinion, this supposedly data-driven, science-based agency just rushed ahead with more regulations for the sake of taking more control over every aspect of our lives.
Ultimately, their new tanning bed regulation is an example of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. And it casts yet another negative shadow on the value of healthy UV exposure, and sends the wrong message to the masses–young and old. When ultimately, the risks lie more in the young when it comes to tanning beds.
So instead of justifying their position with specific science and data (of which there is plenty in relation to the risks for adolescents)…they defaulted to a sweeping and incorrect conclusion for all, as the government does for other politically motivated behavior modification campaigns.
In fact, as I often report, 91 percent of skin cancers are not the malignant melanoma form of cancer that invades, metastasizes, and kills victims. Plus, of the remaining 9 percent of skin cancers that are malignant melanoma, up to 90 percent of them stem from UV radiation exposure during adolescence.
Family history of skin cancer is also significant when it comes to melanoma. So, as you get older, and other family members remain free of melanoma, your odds of getting malignant skin cancer go way down.
So, as I showed with breast cancer in my Ph.D. dissertation 30 years ago, waiting to make lifestyle interventions during adulthood is simply too late to have much of an effect.
One estimate suggests more than 10 percent of skin cancer cases in the U.S. relate to indoor tanning, which significantly increases malignant melanoma risk. But here again, young people (especially young women) are more likely to use indoor tanning. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that malignant melanoma is among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in young women ages 15 to 39 years.
I do think people should stay out of tanning beds. While they do provide some beneficial UVB exposure, which activates vitamin D in the skin, it’s only a small amount compared to what you’ll get from the sun in Nature. Unless you’re working with a dermatologist and have found it beneficial in managing a condition like psoriasis.
But I also think the FDA and government should stay out of our beds, tanning and otherwise.
One way or another, we all need to keep our vitamin D supply steady throughout the year. But tanning beds aren’t the solution. Instead, I suggest spending 15 to 20 minutes out in the sun without sunscreen between April and October. Also, everyone should supplement with 10,000 IU of vitamin D throughout the year. And especially between November and March.
“FDA Regulation of Indoor Tanning Devices and Opportunities for Skin Cancer Prevention,” JAMA 2015;313(24):2423-2424