Teen Use of Indoor Tanning Beds Declines Amid Cancer Fears

Indoor tanning among teens has started to decline over recent years, following strong warnings issued by health officials about the increased cancer risk, according to a new study. 

In findings published in the medical journal JAMA Dermatology on December 23, researchers indicate that indoor tanning bed use has declined across all ages, ethnicities and genders of teens, highlighting that progress is being made in the continuing efforts to raise awareness about the link between indoor tanning beds and skin cancer.

The study compiled data from the 2009, 2011 and 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, using nationally representative samples of teens from public and private high school students in the U.S.

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Teens were surveyed to determine if they had used indoor tanning at least once in the prior 12 months or more than 10 visits in the past 12 months; considered frequent use.

Gery Guy, Jr., the lead author of the study and health economist in the division of cancer prevention and control with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said this is the first national estimate of indoor tanning trends among teens.

The new study found fewer female teens are tanning than in prior years. Tanning rates for girls dropped from 25% in 2009 to 20% in 2013. Tanning rates for boys dropped as well, from 7% in 2009, to 5% in 2013.

Overall, about 10% of girls and 2% of boys still use indoor tanning beds on a frequent basis.

“If you look at the people who are continuing to tan indoor we found no reduction in frequent tanning,” said Guy. “So, in other words, those who continue to tan do it as much as ever.”

Seventeen year olds had high rates of tanning, with 25% admitted having ever tanned in 2013, and 14% claiming to be frequent tanners. About 11% of teens under 14 years of age were also listed as having tanned in an indoor device.

Rates for ever tanning dropped from 37% to 30% in 2013 and rates of frequent tanners reached 17% by 2013. Tanning rates for Hispanic girls dropped from 8% to 2%.

Tanning rates for black males also decreased from 6% to 3%. Rates for frequent tanners dropped from 2.5% to 0.4%.

The surveys sampled more than 16,000 students in 2009, 15,000 in 2011, and nearly 14,000 in 2013. The survey included teens who used any type of indoor tanning device, including tanning beds, booths, and sunlamps; but spray on tanning was not considered.

Increased Cancer Risk with Tanning

Teens tanning at indoor facilities using ultraviolet (UV) lamps has become a concern in recent years due to the links between tanning beds and skin cancer. A study published earlier this year revealed youth face a higher risk of developing cancer after using indoor tanning beds, than when tanning outdoors.

Approximately 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, each year. Another 170,000 are diagnosed with non-melanoma yearly.

Researchers found white (non-Hispanic) females had the highest rates of tanning and frequent tanning both years. A 2013 CDC study revealed young white women ignore the risks of indoor tanning, putting them at unnecessary risk of developing skin cancer and facing death.

Indoor tanning done at all before the age of 35 increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 59% to 75%, according to recent research.

Researchers say fewer teens are using indoor tanning, but more than 1.5 million high school students still tan every year. The drop may reflect the public’s understanding of the risks involved with indoor tanning, a campaign long waged by dermatologists and health advocates.

“We’re definitely seeing an increased awareness of the harms,” said Guy.

Amid the concerns of the risk of skin cancer from indoor tanning, in May the FDA issued regulations to place warnings for minors on tanning beds and sun lamps, warning of the risk of cancer.

Despite the increased warnings, the risks for teens are still a big concern. While many states have placed age restrictions on indoor tanning, the restrictions vary widely from state to state.

Currently 11 states have a complete ban on indoor tanning for minors, while 40 states have regulations banning tanning in some form to youth of different ages. Recently the District of Columbia passed a ban on indoor tanning for children under the age of 18, in hopes to reduce the risk of skin cancer in youth.

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