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TIME MAGAZINE: California Bans Teens From Tanning Salons
October 10, 2011
By Meredith Melnick
California girls wanting a beach-bronzed look will have to get it the natural way, thanks to a new law barring teens under 18 from using tanning beds.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the provision into law, the first state law of its kind, on Sunday. Other states, including New York, Illinois, Rhode Island and Ohio are considering similar measures, and at least 30 states now have at least some age restrictions — covering younger teens — on tanning bed use.
Until the new law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, teens under 14 will continue to be banned from using tanning beds in California, but those aged 15 to 17 will be able to do so with parental permission. Teens under 18 make up 5% to 10% of tanning-bed users nationally, according to the Indoor Tanning Association.
MORE: Why a Pediatricians Group Is Pushing for Teen Tanning Bans
Such frequent and early exposure to UV rays, the kind used by tanning beds, increases the risk of developing melanoma, a particularly deadly form of skin cancer that kills one in eight patients. It is the second most common cancer in U.S. women aged 20 to 29.
"Young people may not think they are vulnerable to skin cancer," said Dr. Ron Kaczmarek, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration epidemiologist who has reviewed several studies on the topic by the National Cancer Institute. "They have difficulty thinking about their own mortality."
Teen girls may be particularly susceptible to the lure of tanning in California, where in many communities, having a sun-kissed glow is considered beautiful, as the bill's author, State Sen. Ted Lieu pointed out to the Associated Press, noting that tanning salons outnumber Starbucks or McDonald's in Los Angeles County.
"Girls in affluent California communities especially are surrounded by the message that being tanned all year round is cool," said Christina Clarke, a spokesperson for the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, in a statement. "Pop music star Katy Perry is even singing about it."
MORE: Can Tanning Be "Addictive"? Not So Fast
There are 50,000 licensed tanning salons currently operating in the U.S., which receive 1 million visitors per day, 70% of whom are girls and women.
Left to their own devices, tanning salons aren't likely to keep their youngest customers safe, at least according to a 2009 study sponsored by NCI and published in the Archives of Dermatology. As part of the study, researchers trained female college students to pose as fair-skinned, 15-year-old first-time tanners in phone consultations with 3,600 tanning salons in 50 states. They found that fewer than 11% of the salons adhered to government recommendations on sunlamp exposure, which limits tanning to no more than three sessions in the first week; 71% of the salons said they would allow tanning every day for the first week and many promoted frequent tanning with "unlimited tanning" discount price packages.
MORE: In Young Tanners, Fear of Wrinkling Is Worse Than Cancer