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Post-Spring Break, we Southern California residents might have the urge to sport our newly-acquired tans. The sheer number of students coming back to campus with a slightly darker shade or a robust orange glow seems to be an advertisement of America’s inevitable pull toward enhancing skin pigmentation.

Tanning has become increasingly convenient with the opening of new indoor tanning salons in addition to the classic and age-old use of the sun’s rays.

Recently, however, there have been efforts to regulate the use of indoor tanning services, particularly tanning lamps and tanning beds, for teenagers. It has long been known that individuals who use artificial UV equipment for tanning have as much as a 75 percent increased chance of developing melanoma — skin cancer to most — over their lifetimes.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission accused the Indoor Tanning Association for falsely advertising artificial tanning as “safe and beneficial.” This topic continues to be a subject of controversy. Should the government regulate artificial tanning or should it be a personal decision? Is restricting adolescents’ access to tanning salons too drastic a measure?

With these questions in mind, a panel of experts decided to urge the Food and Drug Administration to step up their regulations regarding the use of artificial tanning equipment, and even prohibit adolescents from tanning salons.

The idea was soon drafted into a bill, called The Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act. The bill proposes a limit to how long one can be exposed to artificial rays, puts a cap on the severity and temperature of the rays, and restricts tanning bed use for those under the age of 18. Several states are already regulating teenagers’ access to tanning salons.

In addition, indoor tanning services will soon carry a ten percent excise tax. The President of the Indoor Tanning Association (founded in 1999 to protect the freedom of individuals to get a suntan) said that this was ironic since tanning has proven health benefits. This act is purported to raise 2.7 million in its first decade.

On March 25, 2010, the General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee reviewed and discussed background information on UV tanning lamps using extensive literature about their association with skin cancer.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, tanning lamp usage in the United States, along with the industry itself, has grown rapidly.

According to the Indoor Tanning Association; there are over 25,000 professional tanning businesses across America. 30 million people — over 10 percent of the nation’s population visit an indoor tanning facility annually, and the total economic impact of these collective tanning businesses exceeds $5 billion a year. With this kind of success, tanning beds continue to attract children and teens. According to several national surveys, tanning bed usage in adolescent girls increased seven percent among 14-year-olds, to 16 percent by age 15, and had more than doubled that figure by age 17.

The efficiency of indoor tanning has literally been cultivated to a science. Tanning results in an increase in melanocytes (or pigment-containing cells) in response to ultraviolet light of varying wavelengths, UVA and UVB. Originally, tanning beds used high-pressure mercury vapor lamps as the source of UVB rays. But as safety concerns grew, UVA became the ray of choice for tanning, since they are supposedly less harmful than UVB, which are more likely to cause sunburns.

Still, it is known that UV radiation can produce genetic mutations in skin cells that can lead to cancer, and whether type A or B, ultraviolet light is a documented carcinogen. While medical experts recommend moderate doses of natural vitamin D from the sun, the amount of UV penetration in “clam shell” (tanning beds with flip-flopping standards of safe levels) cannot be certain until it might be too late.

The debate as to whether or not sunning naturally or opting to climb into a clam shell still resonates within the tanning community. Whatever options the tanner chooses, being safe remains top priority.

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