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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Ban the tan for teens
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Ban the tan for teens

Reviewed By: Michael Smith, M.D., associate professor of Medicine & Pediatrics, Division of Dermatology (Last Updated: March 3, 2011)

As spring arrives, young people's thoughts can turn to sunshine, spring break, and a nice tan for the school prom. Despite health warnings and laws designed to restrict the use of tanning beds by children under age 14, teens - especially girls ages 14-17 - commonly use them.

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a report on the dangers of tanning and proposed a strict new policy, supporting laws to prohibit all adolescent use of tanning beds.

Michael Smith, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, is a member of the AAP Section on Dermatology, which contributed to the AAP's policy statement on tanning and report for parents. Smith says that despite years of warnings, cancer rates continue to rise and misperceptions persist.

"I have seen melanoma in young people and basal cell carcinomas in adolescents. None of these kids had any unusual risk factors. Just ordinary kids exposed to too much sun," Smith said.

Tanning beds are of particular concern. The intensity of ultraviolet rays (UVRs) from some beds can be 10 to 15 times greater than midday sun. According to the AAP, 24 percent of non-Hispanic white teenagers ages 13-19 say they have used a tanning facility at least once.

Smith says tanning bed use is often seen as acceptable by parents. He says people have several misperceptions about tanning that include: tanning beds are safer than sun; a tan is "healthy;" pre-vacation; indoor tanning helps prevent sunburns; and skin cancer is just for old people.

"None of these is true," Smith said.

The AAP has supported legislation that prohibits children under the age of 18 from accessing tanning salons or using artificial tanning devices. The AAP's policy follows similar statements from the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology.

According to the AAP, lifelong sun protection is recommended starting at an early age. This is especially true for children with light skin and eyes, who freckle or sunburn easily, or who have a family history of melanoma.

Recommendations include:

  • Wear proper clothing and hats when exposed to sunlight.
  • Time outdoor activities to minimize exposure to peak midday sun (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Apply sunscreen.
  • Wear sunglasses.
  • Keep infants younger than six months out of direct sunlight. Protect them with clothing and hats.

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