Everyone knows – or should know – by now that tanning beds expose users to a lot of ultraviolet radiation, which can cause cancer. But according to a new study published this week, indoor tanning also is responsible for an average of 3,234 injuries that result in visits to hospital emergency rooms each year.
Skin burns, fainting, and eye injuries were among the most common injuries incurred at indoor tanning sites and treated in emergency departments (EDs) at U.S. hospitals, the study found. The results were published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine..
Lead author Dr. Gery P. Guy Jr., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, says that while the link between indoor tanning and skin cancer is well documented, less is known about the more immediate adverse effects of indoor tanning.
With that in mind, Dr. Guy and co-authors analyzed nonfatal indoor tanning-related injury data from the 2003 to 2012 from a nationally representative sample of hospital EDs. In total, they identified 405 different types of nonfatal indoor tanning-related injuries.
According to the analysis, the number of indoor tanning-related injuries decreased from 6,487 in 2003 to 1,957 in 2012, which the authors suggest is likely due to a reduction in indoor tanning. Still, an estimated 3,234 indoor tanning-related injuries, on average, were treated each year in U.S. hospitals during the study period, and the researchers say the true number of injuries is certainly greater, as the data include only injuries treated in emergency rooms, but not those seen by private physicians, in urgent care facilities or treated at home.
Most of the injuries were skin burns (79.5 percent), syncope (fainting, 9.5 percent) and eye injuries (5.8 percent), according to the study data. Women were more than four times as likely as men to suffer indoor tanning-related injuries, likely because they are far more likely to use tanning beds in the first place. Younger adults, aged 18-34, sustain well more than half the injuries, again because they are the most frequent users of tanning beds; one in three women between the ages of 16 and 25 uses a tanning bed at least once a year.
“Most patients were treated in the ED and released, not requiring hospitalization. However, burns severe enough to warrant an ED visit clearly indicate overexposure to UV radiation and increase skin cancer risk,” the authors write.
Even if the injury isn’t severe at the time, it could lead to more serious complications down the road, warned Dr. Guy. “Some of these more immediate injuries are putting someone at more risk for the longer term problems,” he told CBS News. Even a minor eye burn, for example, increases a person’s risk for developing cataracts later in life, he said.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 1 million people tan in tanning salons on an average day in the United States, adding up to at least 30 million people each year. Although the use of tanning beds has dropped in recent years, a 2014 study found that 13 percent of American adults, 43 percent of college students and 10 percent of teens had used a tanning bed in the past year.
Exposure to UV radiation—whether from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunlamps used in tanning beds—increases the risk of developing skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). However, the UVA radiation emitted by tanning beds is up to 12 times more intense than the UVA in natural sunlight, and even the UVB intensity may approach that of bright sunlight.
In July 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, concluded that tanning devices that emit UV radiation are more dangerous than previously thought. IARC moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category: “carcinogenic to humans.” Previously, it had categorized the devices as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” According to the report, using indoor tanning beds before age 30 raises your risk of skin cancer by a staggering 75 percent.