“Tanning Mom” Case Spotlights Tanning Bed Dangers for Minors

The bizarre case of "Tanning Mom" Patricia Krentcil, a New Jersey parent who allegedly put her 5-year-old daughter in a tanning booth where she sustained burns, comes only weeks after the Mayo Clinic announced that over the last 40 years melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has increased eightfold for young women. The study attributes the dramatic rise to an increase in the use of indoor tanning beds.

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"People who use tanning indoor tanning beds frequently are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma," says lead investigator, Jerry Brewer, MD. "The results of this study emphasize the importance of active interventions to decrease risk factors for skin cancer, and in particular, to continue to alert young women that indoor tanning has carcinogenic effects that increase the risk of melanoma." Tanning beds are also associated with squamous cell carcinoma.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that the Mayo Clinic's findings reflect what many dermatologists are seeing in their practices. "People know they should wear sunscreen and should not get burned, but there is a disconnect between that and tanning bed use," says Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, director of Mohs and Dermatological Surgery at Beth Israel Hospital. "Tans are also being glamorized on reality shows like "Jersey Shore."

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Prom season and the beginning of summer cause a spike in teens' visits to tanning salons, USA Today reports. "It's really hard to fight against fashion," Douglas Horan, a dermatologist with Affinity Medical Group told the newspaper. "If they're getting ready for their wedding or their prom or the beach, they don't want to be the one with really pale skin. It's really hard to fight against that tide."

The carcinogenic effects of UV rays are cumulative which makes tanning beds particularly dangerous for young people. The Food and Drug administration (FDA) estimates that people who begin using indoor tanning before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75%. Tanning beds emit mainly UVA rays which penetrate deep into the skin where they damage connective tissue and suppress the immune system. "Indoor tanning is like smoking for your skin," Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City told USA Today. "It's the single worst thing you can do in terms of skin cancer and premature aging." She added that she supports an FDA ban on tanning beds.

Although UV radiation from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization, only 36 states regulate their use by minors (though most states ban their use by kids under 14). California is the only state with an all out ban for those under the age of 18. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports a nationwide law prohibiting people under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.

The Mayo Clinic offers these basic guidelines for reducing your risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer: Avoid the sun during the middle of the day. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen year-round. Wear protective clothing. Avoid tanning beds. Alert your physician if you notice any changes to moles, birthmarks or freckles.

"Tanning Mom" controversy

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