The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has put tanning beds in its highest risk category: "carcinogenic to humans." This echoes a growing chorus of experts calling for increased attention to tanning bed use. The question is what to do next: simply issue stronger warnings or actually restrict their use?
"Carcinogenic to humans" is Group 1 within IARC's 5 levels of danger. Tanning beds got bumped up from "probably carcinogenic to humans." IARC's decision came after analysis of 20 epidemiological studies which concluded that risk of melanoma increases 75% if tanning bed use starts before age 30. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma causes a large majority of all skin cancer deaths.
Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA), has played off the upgrade as no big deal. US News & World Report quotes him as saying that "UV light from a tanning bed is equivalent to UV light from the sun, which has had a group 1 classification since 1992. Some other items in this category are red wine, beer and salted fish."
Incidentally, mustard gas, plutonium and arsenic in drinking water are also on the list.
On the point of sunshine being dangerous too, not too many people are setting up shop in strip malls to sell us concentrated sunshine. Tanning salons, on the other hand, turn large profits by selling customers a service increasingly shown to be terribly unhealthy.
The next question is: what will change?
Health groups have long advocated against the use of tanning beds, and against over-exposure to the sun. As pointed out by U.S. News, tanning beds are currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FDA controls what labels and warnings must be put on tanning beds. The FTC regulates advertising claims about them.
Currently, the FDA requires a warning on all sun-lamp or tanning bed products which reads:
DANGER—Ultraviolet radiation. Follow instructions. Avoid overexposure. As with natural sunlight, overexposure can cause eye and skin injury and allergic reactions. Repeated exposure may cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. WEAR PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR; FAILURE TO MAY RESULT IN SEVERE BURNS OR LONG-TERM INJURY TO THE EYES. Medications or cosmetics may increase your sensitivity to the ultraviolet radiation. Consult physician before using sunlamp if you are using medications or have a history of skin problems or believe yourself especially sensitive to sunlight. If you do not tan in the sun, you are unlikely to tan from the use of this product.
Since 2007, the FDA has been considering changes to the required warning (which dates back to 1985).
Changing the warning label might not be enough for some health advocates. With the most harmful effects happening when use begins under 30, some are calling for restrictions on minors' use of tanning beds.