The FDA's Weak Medicine for Teen Tanning

Photograph by Dima Hohlov/Gallery Stock

Tanners, beware: “This sunlamp product should not be used on persons under the age of 18 years.” That’s the warning federal regulators want to put on tanning beds to keep young people from taking in fake rays.

The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule, which comes more than three years after an FDA panel recommended (pdf) stricter regulation of tanning beds. Artificial tanning by people under 30 has been linked to a 75 percent increase in melanoma, according to the World Health Organization, which designated tanning devices “carcinogenic to humans.” Indoor tanning is a $5 billion industry, and 28 million Americans tan at salons each year, according to market researcher IbisWorld.

New labeling requirements should “help potential users make an informed choice about use of sunlamp products and mitigate the increased risk of skin cancer” from overuse, the FDA says. The agency also wants tanning gear makers to ensure that timers work properly and that lamps emit the amount of light they say they do.

Don’t expect the new tanning bed stickers to keep teens from tanning. The indoor tanning industry has a poor record of complying with the existing rules. A survey of all the tanning salons in New York City in 2010 found that only 27 percent of tanning beds had labels clearly visible. The FDA’s announcement itself acknowledges that warnings won’t stop teen tanning: “The proposed order does not prohibit the use of sunlamp products by those under the age of 18, but it provides a warning on the consequences,” the agency says. So, tanners, you’ve been warned.

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