Strong Message Goes Out to Teens About Dangers of Indoor Tanning
Be Safe, Don't Go There: Indoor Tanning is Out
(BI) Susanna Daniel
NEW YORK -- On an average day, more than one million Americans tan in tanning salons.
Of the customers, 70 percent are Caucasian girls and women, aged 16 to 49 years.
These numbers continue to rise each year, despite research which demonstrates the risks of indoor tanning, including premature aging such as age spots and wrinkles, and even worse, the danger of skin cancer.
To help educate the public, particularly teenagers, the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) is taking an inventive approach to communicate the risks of indoor tanning by launching a public service advertisement (PSA) campaign in which teens speak to teens in their own language.
Speaking today at SKIN Academy, Arielle N.B. Kauvar, MD, FAAD, dermatologist and chair of the Academy's Council on Communications, introduced the Academy's PSA campaign which targets teenagers with facts about indoor tanning risks.
"Some teens aren't aware of the risks associated with indoor tanning, instead they believe it is safer than tanning outdoors. Others know the risks but are still engaging in this risky behavior," said Dr. Kauvar. "The objective of this campaign is to specifically target teenage girls at a young age before they start tanning and educate them in a peer-to-peer manner that will encourage them to avoid this unnecessary health risk."
The Academy's 2006 - 2007 skin cancer PSA campaign speaks to teens in a language they can understand, instant messaging (IM). Approximately 53 million American computer users -- most of them teens -- use IMs. Many exchange IMs more frequently than e-mail. It has a language all its own, and the Academy has developed this campaign specifically for teens who use it.
This aggressive campaign consists of television, radio and print advertisements that highlight the risks of skin cancer and skin damage that indoor tanning can cause. It is debuting at SKIN Academy and is being distributed throughout the country during October.
"The Academy is committed to leading the charge to reduce mortality from and the incidence of skin cancer in the next 10 to 30 years," said Dr. Kauvar. "Through this PSA campaign, we are targeting a critical age group to help motivate them to avoid this risky activity entirely and help reduce the skin cancer statistics."
Teens and Indoor Tanning
To help reach the target group of teenage girls, the Academy is working with Miss Maryland 2006, Brittany Lietz. Lietz was diagnosed with stage-II melanoma at age 20. She is confident that her indoor tanning caused her melanoma. At age 17, Lietz started using tanning beds. She began with eight minutes once a week and eventually was visiting the tanning beds four times a week for 25 minutes per visit. While Lietz was fortunate that a dermatologist caught her melanoma in time, she has a constant reminder in the form of an 8-inch scar on her back. She is sharing her personal experience with others to increase awareness about skin cancer.
"Even though my mom told me that tanning beds were dangerous, I felt so much peer pressure to be tan that I kept tanning until I was diagnosed with melanoma," Lietz said. "Looking back, I wish that I had listened to my mother when she tried to tell me that tanning was bad, but most teens don't listen to their parents. If one of my friends had told me about the dangers of tanning, I might have been more receptive and not risked my health. Because teen girls speak directly to teen girls in this PSA campaign, they are more likely to receive and retain the strong message about not using tanning beds."
Research suggests that as girls get older they are more likely to tan indoors. A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that approximately seven percent of girls age 14 had used tanning beds in 2001, while 16 percent of girls age 15 had reported doing so. By age 17, the statistic increased to 35 percent of girls who had used tanning beds. According to a 2002 survey published in the Archives of Dermatology, 47 percent of students at a Midwestern university had used indoor tanning beds in 2001. Of those surveyed, 90 percent also admitted to knowing that tanning is a health risk, yet they continued to use tanning beds frequently.
Other research indicates that indoor tanning can be habit-forming. A study published in the April 2006 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) found that some frequent tanners, those who tan 8 - 15 times a month, developed withdrawal-like symptoms after discontinuing tanning. The study authors' suggest that ultraviolet (UV) exposure may have an addictive quality in frequent tanners. The study also determined the tanners found the presence of UV to be desirable and associated it with positive sensations of relaxation.
"The evidence is clear to me; indoor tanning is not safe. There should be laws to protect young people from engaging in indoor tanning just as there are from other unhealthy habit-forming behaviors such as using alcohol and tobacco," said dermatologist James M. Spencer, MD, FAAD, professor of clinical dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. "In addition to public education, it is important that state and federal legislators enact tough legislation to restrict the use of indoor tanning facilities among minors."
Protecting Youth from Indoor Tanning
This year, it is estimated that there will be 111,900 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, diagnosed in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogen. Additionally, a 2005 Swedish study demonstrated that regular exposure to tanning beds significantly elevates a person's risk for developing melanoma. The risk was even higher for individuals younger than 26 who regularly tan indoors.
Yet, only 25 states have legislation restricting youth access to tanning beds. There is growing national and international support from leading health authorities to eliminate young people's exposure to the dangerous UV radiation emitted by indoor tanning beds and sun lamps. Respected worldwide and national health organizations such as WHO, American Academy of Dermatology Association, American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, support enacting federal legislation to prohibit the use of indoor tanning equipment by anyone under the age of 18.
"Alarmingly, the incidence of melanoma is on the rise, particularly in young women," said Dr. Spencer. Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women aged 20 - 29 in the U.S. "It's an unfortunate statistic because we know that UV rays can cause skin cancer and that we can easily limit exposure to UV rays."
Ultraviolet Radiation and Skin Cancer
There are two types of UV radiation: UVA and UVB. UVA has been recognized as a deeper penetrating radiation that causes more damage while UVB has long been associated with burn. Both types damage the skin by tanning and burning the skin. "A tan from a tanning bed does not protect you against a burn or from skin cancer. A tan is actually the result of skin injury," explained Dr. Spencer. "When a person's skin darkens from a tan, it is an indication that damage has occurred to the skin and the skin is trying to protect itself by producing more pigment or melanin."
Most salons use bulbs in their tanning beds that emit a significant amount of UVA and UVB radiation. Additionally, research has found that tanning lamps emit UV rays that can be up to 15 times stronger than the sun.
"There is no 'safe' UV light," explained Dr. Spencer. "Research has shown that UV light is the primary preventable cause of skin cancer and avoiding excessive exposure to the sun and other forms of UV radiation is the solution."