Tanning Beds & Teens

Higher UV means greater risk of cancer.

Tanning Beds & Teens

Image(s) licensed by Ingram Publishing


It’s April and teens will soon be flocking to tanning salons to get an early start on their tans to look good for summer. The problem is they will also be getting an early start on the development of skin cancer.

The Canadian Paediatric Society CPS) recently issued a strong warning to parents about the use of tanning beds by teens. Because they are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays, teens are more at risk of developing skin cancer later in life from exposure to the sun.

Tanning beds put them even more at risk, says the CPS. That’s because the UV rays from tanning beds are 10 to 15 times greater than the UV rays emitted by an intense sun at noon!

UV rays penetrate to the basal skin layer, where skin cells are produced. This stimulates the formation of melanin, a pigment that darkens the skin, and results in a “tan.” When exposure is excessive, the UV rays can damage the basal layer of cells causing premature aging of the skin and ultimately lead to the formation of skin cancer.

The effects of repeated exposure to UV rays from tanning beds are cumulative, so the more often kids use them, the more likely they are to develop skin cancer. According to research, tanning at a young age can increase the risk of melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) by up to 75 percent.

Marketing a concern

Sun tanning salons are actively being marketed to teens and statistics show that 25 per cent of them regularly use tanning beds. Kids are told it’s a great way to clear up problem skin, develop a summer tan before everyone else, or give them a “healthy glow” for prom.

Some advertising even goes so far as to say that tanning beds have health benefits by providing kids with Vitamin D. While it’s true that sun exposure enables us to produce Vitamin D, adequate amounts are produced by exposure to the sun for just 10 – 15 minutes a day. Being in a tanning bed for 10 minutes is equal to being out in the sun all day!
These marketing tactics have many parents and doctors concerned.

In California – the sun capital of the U.S. – teens are banned from using tanning salons. In Canada, the city of Victoria, BC was the first to step up and restrict their use by teens. The province of Nova Scotia quickly followed suit, limiting access to people over 19.

And professional bodies are speaking out:

‣ The Canadian Cancer Society is urging the Ontario government to prohibit the use of tanning beds by kids 17 and under

‣ The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer calls tanning beds a “human carcinogen”

‣ The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Dermatology Association agree that teens should be banned from tanning salons

Talk to your teen

If teens have problem skin, encourage them to eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Avoiding sugary snacks and pop will go a long way to clearing up blemishes and pimples.

If they want a “healthy glow,” invite them to go for a run, hike through the forest, cycle to school, or do any form of exercise. To get adequate Vitamin D, they can spend 15-20 minutes in the summer sun before applying sunscreen.

And if they insist on having a tan for prom or the summer, take them to a health food store, where you can find many “safe” tanning products that look natural.

Let your kids know that the regular use of tanning beds will age their skin prematurely and significantly increase their risk of developing skin cancer in the future.

Do your best to keep them away from the tanning salons.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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