Should Tanning Beds Be Illegal?

MakenzieR on 11 Jan 2012 at 5:30pm

It's no secret that tanning beds are bad for you. Period.  Say what you will about getting Vitamin D, but I know I'd be attacked by 100 dermatologists if I said anything different.  

Because of this knowledge, California decided to ban the use of tanning beds for minors.  In most states minors can tan, but they need a parent or guardian to consent. 

Last week, the Daily Beauty blog decided to pose a question to their readers: Should tanning beds be illegal for everyone?

Most people answered "yes."  I was shocked.

"I would say this is a no-brainer...Yes!" said commenter CW.

Connie M. agreed: "They shouldn't be legal for anyone...a tan is not on my list of things worth dying for."

tanning illegalAnd resident Daily Beauty expert/esthetician Veronica Schwartz said, "I believe tanning beds should be illegal for everyone. Radiation use has been declared a carcinogen by the national Institutes of Health. Also, ultraviolet radiation has a cumulative effect on the eyes, therefore the more often one uses a tanning bed, the greater the likelihood of developing eye problems." 

Personally, I don't agree.  

We know smoking causes cancer - still legal to sell cigarettes.  We know obesity kills us faster - still legal to sell food with >3x the calories one needs in a day.  We know alcohol does horrible things to the liver - still legal to drink. 

I think this anonymous comment puts it best:

I feel like American's should have the right to make descisions regarding their own health. As controversial as that may seem, I strongly believe that once government gets a foothold on regulating an industry, there is no limit. One of the things I hold dearest about living in the USA is my freedom to think and choose for myself. What I eat, think, say, wear, do with my body -- all matters for me to decide in a free nation. Guidelines and warnings about consequences - ABSOLUTELY!

If the government were ever to ban tanning beds, I'd hope they also do something about the other problems I mentioned.  But you know, I don't want to give up my glass of wine.  I know it's not great for me, but every time I have one I'm making a calculated decision about my own health.  I may not think tanning is a smart choice, but if you can justify it for yourself -- that's your right. 

EDIT 1/13/12:

After receiving some internal feedback, I want it to be clear that this post is about whether or not tanning should be completely illegal for adults 18+.  As with smoking, drinking, and many other personal choices, it is not surprising or upsetting that using a known carcinogen like tanning beds would be regulated for minors.   

What do you think?  Take our poll and then sound off in the comments below. 

Photo credit: jdurham on Morguefile; Whatsername? on Flickr

Comments (1)

I’ve received quite a bit of feedback about this post, and that it did not accurately reflect the dangers of tanning beds, and why bans on indoor tanning for minors are currently being pushed.

So, I spoke with RealSelf’s supporting partner the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery to get some more info about the dangers of tanning, and also their support of tougher regulation on indoor tanning for minors.

I, and RealSelf as a whole, completely agree that tanning is bad for your health. It has been scientifically proven to increase one’s risk of melanoma, aka skin cancer. ASDS shared that “this danger is so significant that the World Health Organization has classified tanning in the highest-risk category of known carcinogens. Use of indoor tanning devices can also lead to non-melanoma skin cancers and other health risks related to skin damage.”

ASDS’s advocacy branch, ASDSA, “does not have a position on an all-ages ban for the use of tanning beds in the U.S” But they do “support legislation banning minors from the use of indoor tanning devices,” which they note is “a position shared by groups such as the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society.”

Why focus on minors?

“Pressure from their peers and the media combined with misinformation spread by members of the indoor tanning industry means that many minors underestimate or even ignore the health risks associated with indoor tanning,” says ASDSA.

A few facts that struck me about minors and tanning:

  • Studies indicate that young women are six to seven times more likely to develop melanoma than young men, the primary behavioral difference being the use of indoor tanning devices.
  • 32 states currently have some form of a ban for minors on indoor tanning (including requiring custodial consent)
  • In 2011, California became the first state to pass a bill imposing a full ban on indoor tanning for all minors under age 18
  • 21 states saw bills filed in 2011 introducing bans or strengthening existing bans


They also shared the truth behind claims being made about the “benefits” of indoor tanning:

Tanning gives you needed doses of Vitamin DASDSA: Scientific studies have proven these claims to be untrue. The average person can obtain the vitamin D they need just by spending 5-10 minutes in the sun, eating a healthy diet or with a simple vitamin supplement.

Indoor tanning helps create a “base tan,” thus preventing sunburn
ASDSA: “Base tans” do not protect against sunburns and only increase your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen, hats, clothing and other skin protection products are the only effective ways to protect your skin from sun damage.

Tanning beds are safer than suntanning because they use controlled doses of ultraviolet radiationASDSA: Unfortunately, even “controlled” doses of ultraviolet radiation damage the skin and increase one’s risk of developing skin cancer.

One last fact to think about: “There are no federal requirements for tanning salons to post health warnings...The FDA requires the tanning devices themselves to have [a warning label], but does not specify where on the device it should be placed, how big the font should be, etc.”

More about tanning on RealSelf:
Dr. Jessica Wu: Never go to a tanning bed
Does a suntan really get rid of acne?
How long after I stop using Retin-A can I tan in the sun or tanning bed?
Can I still tan in tanning bed after I get a spray tan?