Sunlamps and Tanning Booths to get “Black Box Warning”

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The use of tanning beds has been hotly debated over the past several years. The National Cancer Institute states there is an increased risk of developing skin cancer with only once a month use of tanning beds. After all, UV radiation is UV radiation - whether from a tanning bed or from the sun. The Indoor Tanning Association, however, disputes this information and insists that moderate tanning gives you the benefits of sun exposure while “minimizing” potential risks. Their view is that the risks of UV exposure are overstated.

    Within this debate is the issue of teens using tanning beds. The World Health Organization advocates for banning anyone under the age of 18 from using tanning beds. The American Academy of Dermatology would like to see indoor tanning equipment for non-medical purposes be banned. Some states have responded by enacting legislation to regulate and reduce the use of tanning beds, with some banning minors (under the age of 18) from using indoor tanning facilities.

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    This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) weighed in and raised the risk of tanning beds from “low” to “moderate.” They also are now requiring sunlamp products and UV lamps used in tanning salons to carry a black box warning that states the products should not be used by those under the age of 18.

    A black box warning is the strictest warning on the labeling of drugs and products given by the FDA. They use this when evidence shows that a drug or product presents a serious hazard to the user or patient. This normally happens, as it did with indoor tanning lamps, after a product has been on the market and reports of serious adverse events (such as a rise in skin cancer rates.) The black box warning is meant to provide consumers with information on the hazards of a particular drug or product.

    In many cases, black box warnings are met with mixed reactions. When placed on a drug, the manufacturer might point to clinical data which shows the drug’s safety while consumer health organizations might point to the data which shows potentially harmful side effects or risks of using a drug or product. Such is the case with the most recent black box.

    Many experts in skin care will applaud the decision, believing that limiting the use of tanning beds will help bring down the rate of skin cancer, which has drastically increased. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006.” Around 90 percent of all skin cancers are attributed to exposure to UV rays from the sun or indoor tanning products (not counting sunless tanning products such as spray-on tans) with 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer being associated with indoor tanning.  

    Some experts believe that, while this is a good step, restrictions need to go even further. Teens notoriously think about the present without giving much thought to their health in 10, 20 or 30 years. They don’t equate tanning today with cancer that may or may not occur much later in their life. But, skin cancer rates for women under the age of 40. A study completed by the Mayo Clinic found that melanoma rates, the most serious type of skin cancer, has increased eightfold in women under 40 since 1970.  While it is hard to look into the future and worry about what may or may not happen, taking steps to prevent cancer is important.

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    The Indoor Tanning Association doesn’t agree and thinks the FDA has caved into pressure from special interest groups. They think the claims of risks associated with tanning beds and sun exposure are overblown and point out the benefits of sun exposure, such as Vitamin D, an essential nutrient to good health. For those with low levels of Vitamin D, some doctors suggest a maximum of 10 minutes a day in the sun will provide your body with enough Vitamin D and, if not, there are foods or supplements that increase your Vitamin D.

    A big part of the problem, many people believe, is our cultural views that tan is beautiful and that you look unhealthy without a tan, especially during the summer months. Until we accept that beauty does not come with a particular shade of skin, but that each person holds their own beauty, there will be those that “need” a tan.


    “Sunlamps and Tanning Beds Get FDA Warning,” 2014, May 29, Val Willingham, CNN

    “Tanning Beds Get a Black Label Warning,” 2014, May 29, Mary Engel, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Published On: June 03, 2014