It never fails to happen at the beginning of each year. Spring break is close at hand, and tanning beds are profitable lines again at all the health stores. No one wants to look untanned when they reach for their swimsuits. But the FDA is wondering if all of this is really a good idea. They are planning to put up really prominent skin cancer warning signs on those sunlamps about skin cancer. Warnings that say that you use them at your own risk – that skin cancer symptoms and cancer itself are definite possibilities. If you have always turned to a tanning bed to lower the risk you’ve read of as inherent in exposing yourself to the sun, this should be news to you. Of course, everyone’s seen the tiny skin cancer signs on the tanning beds that warn that there is some risk involved; but who really pays attention to such a small legally-mandated warning?
The cancer department over at WHO has long been debating whether the tanning bed is really dangerous. There have been so many studies in the recent past that have put a figure on the risk that people undertake, getting a salon tan. They state that a tanning bed would increase their skin cancer risk by more than half. And so last summer, tanning beds went up on their list of must-avoid carcinogens. There have just been too many studies that have found young people reporting skin cancer symptoms from regular tanning bed use, for the WHO to ignore anymore.
The government is so concerned, that they are going to tack a tax on to tanning beds; they figure that there will be so many people with skin cancer from their use, that the government needs to get a contribution from these products to pay for the healthcare plan that will take care of them. And the FDA, that used to consider tanning beds low-risk devices, is going all-out to get the word out among young people that they can really start to expect some signs of cancer skin symptoms, and then incidences of the disease itself if they insist on using these products. They are issuing very stern warnings in large print, and are no longer listing them as low-risk devices. And of course, the association of tanning bed makers and sellers is up in arms over this. They wonder if the government will begin to outlaw the sun now because overexposure to that can cause skin cancers as well.
Actually, melanoma skin cancer isn’t the only risk attached to the use of indoor tanning devices. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are possibilities too. How does this all happen? Well, to begin with, they say that a tan is something that always brings DNA damage to your skin cells along for the ride. In fact, it is the other way round; DNA damage is what gives you any tan at all. When you roast under a lamp or the sun, the body releases a certain protein called P. 53, that rushes to repair the DNA damage inherent in sun-bathing. One of the side effects of this is, that the skin tries to protect itself from further damage, and produces tan-making skin pigment. So in the end, there is no getting away from DNA damage if you need a tan. The only reason the body has to give you one is to protect you from serious skin cancer symptoms. Would we be comfortable with this?