Tanning Beds Declared Carcinogenic, Like Cigarettes and Formaldehyde

By Eliza Strickland | July 29, 2009 10:30 am

tanning bedAn international health agency has officially ruled that tanning beds pose as likely to cause cancer as cigarettes, asbestos, and arsenic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved ultraviolet-emitting tanning beds from the category of “probably carcinogenic” to definitely “carcinogenic to humans.”

The IARC is an expert committee that makes recommendations to the World Health Organization. It made its decision following a review of research which concluded that the risk of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – was increased by 75% in people who started using sunbeds regularly before the age of 30. In addition, several studies have linked sunbed use to a raised risk of melanoma of the eye [BBC News]. The study results and the new classification were published in the journal Lancet Oncology, and experts say the findings are likely to prompt calls for stricter regulations of tanning salons.

Melanoma originates in a type of skin cells called melanocytes that make skin tan or brown and protect the deeper layer from the sun, according to the American Cancer Society [Bloomberg]. Cases of melanoma are on the rise in the United States, particularly among young women. A separate study reported last July by researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that melanoma rates among young women in the United States almost tripled between 1973 and 2004 [WebMD].

The study also refuted the theory, long presented by the indoor tanning industry, that tanning beds are safe because their bulbs emit more ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation than ultraviolet B (UVB). Says Len Lichtenfeld, a doctor with the American Cancer Society: “This report puts to rest the argument that tanning with UVA light is safe…. As noted by the IARC report, UVA light is also a class I carcinogen and should be avoided” [WebMD]. However, indoor tanning association spokespeople still maintain that tanning beds are not dangerous when used properly.

Related Content:
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DISCOVER: The Truth About McCain’s Melanoma: He Faces a Very Low Risk
DISCOVER: Outrunning Melanoma
DISCOVER: The Biology of… Sunscreen

Image: flickr / Evil Erin

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: cancer, health policy
  • http://clubneko.net robot makes music

    But but but! It’s the free market! The indoor tanning industry surely has a vested interest in keeping it’s customers alive and healthy, so there’s no possible way they could be lying about a possibly harmful effect of their product. I mean, look at the shining iconic example of the tobacco industry. No lies there!

  • http://www.super-science-fair-projects.com Biology Science Fair Projects

    It really is no surprise that tanning beds put you at a higher risk for developing skin cancer, after all they utilize the same type of light energy that the sun radiates. If you are working on a science fair project then consider looking at ways to create a “sun tan” that is not hazardous to your health, beyond self tanners.

  • Brian

    Eat carrots instead. Lots and lots of carrots!

    One kajillion rabbits can’t be wrong.

  • http://www.technologyslice.com.au TSlice

    This should be a big wake up call to people that regularly go to tanning salons. For years doctors have been warning people about the dangers of it.

  • Lesley

    Smoking, yes causes cancer. Tanning in tanning beds causes cancer. Eating fatty/salty foods, kills you, pollution causes cancer, you can be killed riding or driving in a car….. see where I’m going with this???? Everything is bad for you. If you feel good and you know what you are doing to YOUR body, and I have yet to hear of someone tanning and driving the killed someone, or second hand tanning being bad… let em do what they want.

  • http://www.safetanning.org/ best sunless tanning

    About time. There are way too many websites saying that tanning beds are safe. UV rays can be just as dangerous if created artificially.
    I can’t agree with ‘just let them do what they want’ as there are too many gullible people that believe anything they read on the internet.

  • http://tanningsimple.com/ Tanning Simple

    It would be beneficial to educate the public on safer alternatives whenever condemning tanning beds. People won’t stop using them just because studies say they are cancerous. Look at cigarettes, we all know they are bad for you, yet 1 out of 3 Americans still smokes. An alternative should always be mentioned instead of an all out demonization of UV light.


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