Tanning salons pose risk for teens


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 Healthlink

Bio | Email


Posted on March 19, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:45 AM

When fair skinned Michele Spencer first decided to visit a tanning salon, her mother went along.
"I was 16 years old, and we were getting ready for a family vacation. And my mother and I went into the tanning booth to get what we considered a base tan," Spencer said.

The biggest users of tanning booths are women and girls. According to one survey the number could be as high as 10 percent of teens. But research shows the combo of tanning booths, sun exposure, and a depleted ozone layer in the atmosphere can spell trouble from skin cancer. That includes deadly melanoma.

"Since 1992 there's been a three percent increase in the rate of melanoma every single year in a group of white women between the age of 18 and 39. Well that's a big deal," explained Seattle Children's pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, who recently wrote about it on her Mama Doc blog.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has now recommended that governments ban minors' access to tanning salons. Dr. Swanson recommended parents not wait to protect their teens.

"We think that the UV radiation intensity in an indoor tanning salon can be 10 to 15 times being in natural sunlight," she said.

Michele Spencer thought back to her days of tanning, and said she and her mother never realized the risk.

"We thought that it was safer than the real sun," she said of tanning in a salon.

Within two years of tanning in a booth to get a bronze glow for her prom, Spencer noticed moles. They began to grow, and to multiply.

"Within 10 years I was covered from head to toe," she said, showing moles on her arms and legs.

She developed melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, and needed surgery.
"They take a larger amount of skin, and they remove it, to make sure they've removed all the cancer. And it leaves a scar and stitches," she said.
Dr. Swanson said tanning at a young age increases the risk of skin cancer.

"Why we feel so strongly about protecting children is that ultraviolet radiation, artificial sunlight and natural sunlight exposure in childhood in excess, is more dangerous than that we get later on in life" she explained.

Spencer plans to guard her own toddler from the sun damage that has caused her so much pain, with sunscreens, and a sun suit that blocks out harmful rays.

Providing children with sunglasses, sun hats, and limiting their time in the midday sun also add up to better protection.