WASHINGTON — The FDA is one step closer to prohibiting minors from soaking up the harmful rays of tanning beds. On Friday it announced proposed rules that would restrict use of indoor tanning beds to individuals age 18 and up. This would also require patrons of tanning salons to obtain a signed risk acknowledgment form before their first session and again every six months stating they are aware of the health risks associated with the machines.
Those health risks include a 59% greater risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, among those who have soaked up the harmful UV rays of an indoor tanning bed even once, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. That risk increases each time you tan.
The exposure from tanning beds is 10-15 times more intense than that of the midday sun, according to Dr. Vasum Peiris, with the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health. This can lead to sunburns, premature aging and an increased risk of blinding eye disease, he said in a conference call Friday.
The World Health Organization classified tanning beds as carcinogenic to humans in 2009.
But people aren’t deterred. A survey by the American Academy of Dermatology found 35% of adults, 59% of college students, and 17% of teens have participated in indoor tanning at least once. A 2013 government report found 1.6 million minors participate in indoor tanning each year. That is why the FDA says they are taking action.
“Today’s action is intended to help protect young people from a known and preventable cause of skin cancer and other harms,” acting FDA Commissioner, Dr. Stephen Ostroff said in an agency press release.
The FDA also proposed changes by the manufacturers and facilities where tanning beds are used, to improve standards and safety of the devices themselves. These include mandating improved eye protection for use during tanning sessions, more prominent display of warning signs that are easier to read on the beds themselves, labeling on replacement bulbs to help ensure the correct ones are being used, requiring an emergency shut-off or panic button, and a prohibition against modifying the machines without undergoing an FDA recertification process.
The American Academy of Dermatology called the proposed rules, “a monumental step to protect the public’s health.”
Dr. Mary Maloney, chief of the division of dermatology at the University of Massachusetts, who has worked with the American Academy of Dermatology to push for the changes, is thrilled. As a dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon, she said she would love it if there were no tanning beds for anyone at any age. “I would love to be put out of business and I think this step by the FDA is a step towards reducing the risk of skin cancer in the United States,” she said. Key to that, she said, is lowering ultraviolet radiation exposure.
Last year the U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action to prevent skin cancer, which included reducing indoor tanning. This was proceeded by the FDA changing labeling requirements from low risk to moderate risk on indoor tanning machines. These newly proposed measures are a next step.
“These proposed rules are meant to help adults make their decisions based on truthful information and to ensure manufacturers and tanning facilities take additional steps to improve the safety of these devices,” Ostroff said.
The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents manufacturers and distributors of indoor tanning machines across the country, said in a statement it embraces label changes that provide a better understanding of “potential risks” but it believes the decision on whether teens partake in indoor tanning is for parents, not the government.
“We are concerned that the proposed requirements will burden our members with addition[al] unnecessary governmental costs in an already difficult economic climate,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the association.
There are 18,000 to 19,000 indoor tanning salons in the United States and an additional 15,000 to 20,000 other facilities that offer indoor tanning services, such as spas and health clubs, according to the FDA.
Indoor tanning injuries account for more than 3,000 emergency room visits each year, according to the CDC.
If approved, these rules would be enforced by the FDA with help from state agencies and consumers via complaints. Violators could face fines, device confiscation, and legal action including civil financial penalties or criminal prosecution, according to the FDA.
The proposed rules are undergoing a 90-day public comment period as the next step in the process toward becoming final.