Dermatologists asked the Indiana Health Finance Commission to consider passing a law that bans minors from using tanning beds, while tanning organizations said the risks are misrepresented.
Dermatologist Carrie Davis of Bloomington, a member of the Indiana Academy of Dermatology, told the legislative commission Wednesday that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with melanoma causing 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.
Davis said one in 50 people in the United States will get melanoma in their lifetimes. Among young adults ages 15 to 29, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer – and the most common among young adults ages 25-29.
Also, Davis said that one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetimes and that ultraviolet exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer.
“Any tan, any sunburn is causing DNA damage to the skin,” Davis said.
While most types of cancer are decreasing in frequency, melanoma has been afflicting 2 percent to 3 percent more people each year since the 1980s. Davis said she believes part of this increase is due to the increased use of indoor tanning beds, specifically among people under 18.
Davis said the chances of getting melanoma are increased by 75 percent if a person uses indoor tanning beds before the age of 35. Other risks include sun burns, fair skin, having multiple moles, having atypical moles, and a family history of melanoma.
“So tanning bed use is by no means the only risk factor associated with melanoma development,” Davis said. “But is certainly the most modifiable risk factor.”
Dermatologist Keeter Sechrist told lawmakers that defensive measures against the sun’s UV-A and UV-B rays outdoors have improved over the last 30 years, but the increased use of indoor tanning beds is causing the increase of melanoma.
She said indoor tanning is not healthy. “There is no such thing as a safe tan,” Sechrist said. “If your skin is tan, it’s being damaged.”
And she called skin cancer “an epidemic.”
In 2011, California became the first state to pass a law restricting access to indoor tanning beds to only people over 18, and many states have followed suit.
In Indiana, teens younger than 16 can tan if a parent accompanies them. Those 16- and 17-year-olds must have a parent sign consent in the presence of a tanning salon or bed operator prior to their first use.
But Joseph Levy, scientific advisor to the American Suntanning Association, said he believes the bans on teen tanning were passed with a “lack of intelligent discourse.” And he said in Illinois, a ban only passed in exchange for support on other legislative issues.
Levy told lawmakers that trained professional tanning salons educate their customers about the dangers of indoor tanning. His group, Smart Tan, which is a member of the American Suntanning Association, trains member salons to screen and educate customers.
Levy said the ultraviolet rays in tanning beds are two to three times more intense than those of the sun, but beds are restricted to exerting 624 Joules – a unit of measurement – of energy. He said spending one day in the sun would expose a person to 4,000 Joules.
Levy also said the highest risk factors for melanoma are having 40 or more moles, red hair or a family history of melanoma. Additionally, he said dermatologists misrepresent the dangers of ultraviolet rays, which are the only carcinogens listed that humans cannot live without.
Levy also said people are at a greater risk for contracting melanoma when they purchase in-home tanning beds, because their time in the beds is unregulated. Tanning salons protect customers, he said.
“The unintended consequence of restricting tanning salon access with parents’ consent to people under the age of 18 is that you drive them into unregulated tanning environments,” including the purchase of home units, he said.
Katie Donnar was diagnosed with melanoma her senior year of high school. Donnar, who grew up in Vincennes, began using tannings bed when she was 14 and later purchased an in-home tanning bed her junior year. Six months later, she noticed a spot on her leg and a family doctor sent her to a dermatologist, who removed it and discovered it was cancer.
Fortunately, doctors found the cancer early and Donnar survived but she’s had multiple spots removed since then.
“It’s just this never-ending battle of living with the repercussions of what I did to my body between the ages of 13 and 17,” she said. “That tanning bed we had in our home, we destroyed it.”
Davis said phototherapy, which is a regulated form of skin treatment that sends short rays of light into the skin, is often used by dermatologists to treat certain skin diseases. But, Levy said such treatments can also increase the risk of melanoma.
Levy said he believes tanning organizations and medical professionals should work together to help prevent skin cancer.
“We’re here to be part of the solution,” he said. “If legislators or groups in Indiana would like to work with us to discuss what the science really says and real world solutions to teaching practical sun care education based on facts and not based on distorting information, we look forward to do that together so the Indiana legislature can move on to other more pressing issues without overreaching.”