NEW YORK CITY — Tanning beds emit a heavy dose of UV light — roughly 10 to 15 times the amount you would get sitting outside at noon.
That sun splurge significantly increases the risk for skin cancer, and that risk goes up the earlier you start. Yet young adults are not prohibited from tanning in many parts of the country.
Now experts are calling on states and the Food and Drug Administration to beef up tanning bed restrictions, before teenage melanoma cases skyrocket.
"Exposure of any type of any tanning bed elicited at 75 percent increased risk for melanoma," Dr. Lynn Anne Cornelius said of a study she and her colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently conducted. Their finding were published in the March edition of the journal Pediatrics.
While studies like Washington University's show the risks are higher the earlier you start tanning, in many states there are no age limits for tanning bed use.
"Seventeen states in this country have absolutely no legislation to protect minors," said Dr. Sophie Balk, attending pediatrician at New York's The Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
In California and Vermont, the minimum age to tan is 18. In Missouri, no age restrictions are in place. In 2007, researchers there surveyed local tanning salons about their rules on youth tanning.
"Two-thirds of the facilities would allow a 10- to 12-year-old individual to tan; some of these said a parent didn't need to be consented or present," Cornelius said.
The American Suntanning Association responded to the Missouri study in a statement, saying it's in favor of new measures like strong parental consent laws. But researchers say that even if a parent signs off on tanning the risk for skin cancer remains.
"We'd like all states to pass legislation prohibiting minors under 18 from tanning in salons," Balk said.
States are getting on board — more than 30 have some sort of tanning bed restriction in place for teens. Several other states, like Missouri, have legislation in the works.
The FDA requires tanning salons to have certain controls on the time spent in a bed, and the dose of UV exposure.
Right now, tanning beds are classified as class 1 medical devices — the same as tongue depressors and elastic bandages. An FDA advisory panel recommended changes be made to that classification — something the agency is currently considering.