Following a World Health Organization (WHO) decision last year to list tanning beds as known carcinogens, the FDA is considering tougher warning requirements in the United States about the potential risk of cancer from tanning beds.
In March, FDA advisers will hold public hearings on tanning bed safety, where experts will debate the possibility of stricter regulations, increased cancer warning requirements and potential reclassification of tanning beds as a more controlled form of medical device. Currently, tanning beds are classified as Class I medical devices, the same classification as bandages. Reclassifying them as a more tightly controlled medical device would give the FDA more regulatory power over their use.
The hearings come after a study released by WHO in July 2009 that determined that the use of tanning beds before the age of 30 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75%. As a result of the study, WHO reclassified ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds and other sources as a definite carcinogen. Previously, they were considered “probable” carcinogens.
Some studies have shown that the use of tanning beds by young adults results in eight times the risk of developing melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer once found mainly in the elderly, but which has increasingly become a problem for younger adults. The American Cancer Society says that melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is diagnosed in about 69,000 Americans each year and causes about 8,650 deaths annually. Less dangerous, but more common, basal and squamous cell carcinomas affect more than one million Americans each year and cause about 2,000 deaths annually.
Both the FDA and the Indoor Tanning Association say that one of the major problems is people who go too often and overexpose themselves to ultraviolet radiation, hoping to get a better tan. The FDA says once a week will give people the same results as going three times per week. However, the ITA says that it does not believe there is any new science which would justify more stringent FDA regulations.