As the United States continues through a winter that included a historic blizzard in the Northeast, many of us may be longing for summer days spent on the beach, soaking up the sun and working on a tan. A number of people, however, may not bother waiting until summer and will instead visit one of the approximately 14,000 tanning salons spread across the country. Recent studies by the federal government show that tanning salons are still popular in the United States, especially among teenage girls, who may pop in for a quick session up to two times day. At the same time, recent scientific studies have analyzed the connection between exposure to a tanning bed’s ultraviolet light and the emergence of skin cancer among users. Manufacturers and distributors of tanning beds along with tanning salons may want to take note before the situation gets too hot to handle.
A bronzed complexion first became the desired look for most in pop culture in the 1980s. The demand for this sun-kissed look all year round has spurred the growth in the tanning bed market. A recent New York Times article discusses this popularity but notes that skin cancer is also on the rise and increasingly linked to the ultraviolet light used in tanning beds.
Recently, measures have been taken by various federal agencies to raise awareness of the risks associated with the use of tanning beds. In 2013, the Surgeon General warned Americans to reduce their exposure to the sun and tanning beds to prevent skin cancer, and the Food and Drug Administration moved tanning beds to the category of potentially harmful medical devices. President Obama’s 2010 Affordable Health Care Act imposed a 10 percent tax on tanning salons, and more than 40 states have restricted the use of tanning salons by minors. In 2010, the Indoor Tanning Association settled with the Federal Trade Commission on charges that it deceived consumers about the risks from indoor tanning and made false claims about its purported benefits. Scientific studies have shown that as many as 400,000 cases of skin cancer haven been linked to tanning beds, including 6,000 cases of melanoma.
Tanning salons have in the past been the subject of claims unique to the industry, such as claims that infections or illnesses stem from unsanitary rooms or tanning beds, eye damage was caused by faulty goggles, and heat-related injuries are due to faulty timers or burns from high temperatures. The FDA Consumer Update on Indoor Tanning lists additional risks of indoor tanning, such as premature aging, immune suppression and allergic reactions. While manufacturers should address these issues and draft warnings accordingly, the damages from these lawsuits could pale in comparison to the lawsuits on the horizon from individuals linking their skin cancer to the prolonged use of tanning beds.
Manufacturers should be cognizant of the emerging scientific studies and design their products to take into account this increasing risk. Naturally, one obvious response from the manufacturers of tanning beds and from the operators of tanning salons should be an evaluation of the warnings that are provided to the users of tanning beds. It is also advisable for tanning salons to properly train their employees on the dangers inherent in the use of tanning beds and to ensure that those employees are informing consumers of those risks. Additionally, manufacturers should be aware of the danger of misrepresenting the product’s safety or exaggerating the benefits of sun tanning.
Consumers may be flying too close to the sun by over-using tanning beds, but it’s the manufacturers that may find themselves burned. As the dangers of tanning salons become more evident, manufacturers need to stay informed and take proactive steps to mitigate their individual exposure to this industry-wide risk.