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Policies and Practices for Cancer Prevention: Indoor Tanning Among Minors

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and has been identified by the Surgeon General as a serious public health problem. The most common types of skin cancer—basal and squamous cell carcinoma—are usually treatable but can be disfiguring and expensive to treat.1 Melanoma is a less common but deadly form of skin cancer.2 Most skin cases of cancer are caused, in part, by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from indoor tanning. Limited UV exposure from the sun can have benefits such as improving a person’s mood and stimulating the body’s production of vitamin D. Excessive UV exposure from indoor tanning and sunbathing offers no additional health benefits and increases the risk of harms from UV exposure.36

Indoor tanning in particular may expose users to excessive levels of UV radiation, which are not only harmful but also easily avoidable.7, 8 This excessive UV exposure greatly increases a person’s risk of getting melanoma, as well as basal and squamous cell carcinomas.912 Estimates from a recent study indicate that each year in the United States, more than 400,000 new cases of skin cancer (245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,000 melanomas) may be related to indoor tanning.13 Indoor tanners are also at increased risk for other adverse effects of excessive UV exposure, including damage to the immune system, premature skin aging, and eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and certain eye cancers.1417

The public health community plays an important role in educating young people about protecting themselves from the harms of indoor tanning. Many public health efforts focus on educational and messaging strategies. Other efforts focus on providing the scientific evidence that can inform policy approaches, including regulatory or legislative strategies, to reduce indoor tanning among minors. Some of these strategies are happening at the national level, such as regulating tanning devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.18 Most are happening within individual states and local communities and often include restrictions on minors’ access to indoor tanning such as age restrictions, parental consent laws, and parental accompaniment laws.1921

Outside the United States, many countries have banned indoor tanning for individuals younger than age 18 years in an effort to prevent skin cancer.21, 22 By incorporating the scientific evidence and lessons learned from local, state, national, and international public health communities, we can coordinate our efforts and best use our resources to protect the future health of today’s youth.