Minors may no longer be able to bask in tanning beds nationwide if the Food and Drug Administration gets its way. On Friday, the FDA proposed a change in regulations that would restrict indoor tanning to those over 18. The changes would also force manufacturers to install more safety features on tanning beds, and would require all users of any age to sign a waiver showing that they have been informed of the health risks involved.
There will be a 90-day period for public comment on the proposed regulations. But an FDA spokesperson said that in the case of devices, most FDA proposals are eventually enacted.
In nine states, all minors are already legally prohibited from using tanning beds. Friday’s proposal builds on FDA action in May 2014 that raised indoor tanning devices to “moderate-risk” level, reflecting research that shows UV exposure significantly increases a person’s risk of cancer.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those who use indoor tanning beds increase their risk of melanoma, one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, by 59 percent. The Academy released a statement applauding the FDA “for taking a monumental step to protect the public’s health.”
National survey data from 2013 showed that 1.6 million minors were tanning indoors.
“The decision of whether a minor should tan, be that outdoors in the sun or indoors at a tanning salon … is best left to parents, not the federal government,” wrote the American Suntanning Association in a response to the FDA’s announcement. The group also called it “ludicrous” for the government to require adults to sign a waiver every six months in order to keep tanning indoors.
But many doctors disagree.
“There are so many cancers that we can’t prevent. Skin cancer, we can,” said Dr. Mary Maloney, chief of the dermatology department at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who is thrilled about the FDA’s proposal.
She explained that the ultraviolet light emitted by tanning beds causes the DNA in skin cells to break. The DNA has a mechanism to fix itself, but every repair job runs the risk of going badly and introducing harmful mutations to the cell’s genetic material. Those mutations can cause skin cancer.
“I’m a skin cancer surgeon. I would like to be put out of business before I retire, and this is a step in that direction,” said Maloney.
This story has been updated to include comments from the American Suntanning Association.