Despite the risk of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma, nearly 30% of white female high school students use tanning beds and nearly 17% use them often, a new report finds.
Among white women aged 18 to 34, nearly 25% use tanning beds and 15% use them frequently, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The high rates of indoor tanning among this population is very concerning," said report co-author Gery Guy Jr., of the division of cancer prevention at the CDC.
Moreover, there have been no significant changes in the prevalence of indoor tanning in recent years, he said.
"Indoor tanning has been associated with skin cancer, particularly melanoma," Guy said. "The risk is increased among younger users and those who use it frequently."
Guy said young girls should be educated about the risks of ultraviolet ray exposure. Indoor tanning also should be restricted to adults, and claims about its benefits should be discredited, he said.
Tanned skin, damaged skin
In addition, changing the perception that tanned skin is healthy and attractive would go a long way in reducing the use of tanning beds. "Tanned skin is damaged skin," he said.
The report was published online on 19 August in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Dr Melanie Palm, a spokeswomen for the Skin Cancer Foundation and director of Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, California, said the study's findings are consistent with past research on the use of tanning beds.
More than 30 million Americans use tanning beds every year, Palm said. "There is a disproportionate number of girls and young women who use them," she said.
Although tanning is a known risk for skin cancer, there is a "cultural disconnect between the risk and the desire for a 'healthy glow'," she said.
Parents need to be role models and educate their children about the dangers of UV exposure, Palm said. She said people should get into the habit of putting on sunscreen before going out, and girls and women who want a tanned look should use sunless tanning spray.
Cancer, however, is not the only risk of tanning. Exposure to UV rays ages the skin, making it less elastic, and causes wrinkles and spots, Palm said.
An industry spokesman, however, said the connection between indoor tanning and the risk for melanoma has not been confirmed.
"The body of studies on the relationship between UV exposure and melanoma skin cancer are replete with conflicting information," said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association.
"This study also ignores the many benefits of moderate exposure to ultraviolet light," he said. "With any human activity, there are risks and benefits, and the key is balance."
Another expert said many women weren't told about the dangers of tanning when they were teens.
"Most adult patients that I treat for skin cancers preface their discussion with me by saying that when they were teenagers they were never told that sunbathing or tanning was bad for them," said Dr Jeffrey Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.
"If there was a way for teens to be able to talk to their future self, the remedy would be easy," he said. "But since the cancerous effects of tanning beds take time to evolve into skin cancers, it is hard for teens to personally identify with the risks. It is going to be a combination of parents, teachers and social media that will have to be used to target this audience."
For more on indoor tanning, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.