10 January 2013

American Academy of Dermatology’s statement regarding the American Suntanning Association

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (Jan. 7, 2013) —
Daniel M. Siegel, MD, FAAD
President, American Academy of Dermatology

The recent statements by the American Suntanning Association (ASA) are ridiculous and there is no data to support them. Indoor tanning is dangerous. There is compelling scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed medical journals demonstrating that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. 

In regard to the difference between phototherapy and indoor tanning, the crucial disparity is that phototherapy is closely monitored and supervised by a dermatologist, a medical doctor who has the appropriate training and expertise in this area. This type of medical care is not provided at an indoor tanning salon, where operators have minimal knowledge about the potential side effects of UV light, and tanning bed lamps have variable amounts of UVA and UVB light. A recent investigation by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee demonstrates that when asked direct, simple questions about the safety of indoor tanning, the industry willfully misleads potential customers, putting their health in jeopardy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves medical UV phototherapy lamps and devices for use in a clinical setting, but it does not approve the use of indoor tanning devices for medical treatment or recognize an indoor tanning bed as a medical device. For several chronic skin diseases, including psoriasis, vitiliigo, and atopic dermatitis, the use of phototherapy in the dermatologist’s office may be prescribed as a treatment. In these cases, the dermatologist and patient assess and weigh the potential benefit of treatment of the skin disease against the risks of UV exposure.

In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has determined that claims regarding the health benefits of tanning made by the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) were false and misleading. The ITA is a similar organization to the ASA because its purpose is to support the commercial interests of suntan salon operators. In fact, the FTC instructed the ITA to clearly and prominently disclose in any advertising that makes claims about the health and safety benefits of indoor tanning that exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the risk of developing skin cancer. We expect that the ASA also would be held to these standards.

The bottom line is that as physicians who treat skin cancer, dermatologists are committed to saving lives and protecting the public from the dangers of UV exposure. We discourage anyone from seeking a tan, whether it’s from the sun or from indoor tanning. 

Updated on Jan. 14, 2013