Teens and tanning beds

Did you know that Alaska is one of seven states without any restrictions on tanning bed use for minors?

A state-by-state comparison from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), released April 10, 2017, found that at least 43 states regulate indoor tanning for minors. Fifteen states ban minors from using tanning beds altogether. Tanning – indoor and outdoor – may be a summer pastime for teens, but it’s time to learn myth vs. fact and break the tradition.

Indoor tanning myths:

Indoor tanning is safe because it’s controlled.
Tanning beds are set to a timer, but the intensity of the ultraviolet (UV) rays depends on the age and type of bulbs used. Also, tanning lamps can give off ultraviolet radiation that’s 10 to 15 times stronger than the midday sun, according to the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D during winter.
While UV exposure does provide vitamin D, the amount needed for a proper dose of vitamin D is unknown. Since UV exposure is carcinogenic, the best way to get vitamin D is from eating foods such as oily fish and fortified dairy products and cereals. Another easy way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D is to take supplements.

Building a base tan for a sunny trip or to prepare for summer reduces the risk of burning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a pre-existing tan does not protect your skin from further sun damage – actually, indoor tanners are more likely to report getting sunburned. Furthermore, tanned skin is still a sign of skin damage from UV rays.


UV exposure, from the sun or the tanning beds, is a known carcinogen.
Researchers estimate that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the US could be related to indoor tanning. A 2016 study found women who use tanning beds under the age of 30 are six times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer). Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females between the ages of 15 and 29.

The dangers of UV exposure don’t stop at skin damage.
Skin cancer is the biggest risk of UV exposure, but there are other dangers from over-exposure, like immune system suppression and short- or long-term eye damage like ocular melanoma, according to the CDC. Between 2003 and 2012, there was an average of over 3,000 US emergency room visits per year from injuries related to indoor tanning, according to the FDA.

Alaska has no tanning restrictions, putting responsibility on parents to limit UV exposure and educate kids on the harms of UV radiation. Plan outdoor adventures to avoid peak UV hours (10 am-4 pm); use extra caution near water – reflections increases the chance of burning; wear protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves and long pants; and regularly apply sunscreen to provide a UV-absorbing barrier.

Encourage your children to love – and protect – their skin, whatever its natural hue. Those who can’t resist the bronzed look should consider sunless (UV-free) tanners – these tanners effectively produce an even “tanned” look without causing skin damage. The payoff will be a healthier, more beautiful future.