Study Finds Strongest Link Yet Between Tanning Beds and Cancer, Especially Among Teens

The FDA seeks a nationwide ban on indoor tanning among those under 18. Right now, a patchwork of laws bar teens from indoor tanning in some states and require parental consent in others.

A study published today in JAMA Dermatology presents the strongest findings yet linking indoor tanning during the teen years with melanoma during young adulthood, especially among young women. Women who tanned indoors were two to six times more likely to develop melanoma, the authors concluded.

The study examined a group of 681 patients with melanoma and a comparison group of 654 patients. Compared with women aged 40 to 49 diagnosed with melanoma, those under age 40 with the disease started tanning at younger ages—between 16 and 25—and tanned more often, with an average of 100 sessions vs. 40.1

One-third of the women diagnosed before age 30 had melanomas on their trunk, compared with one-quarter (24 percent) of those diagnosed between ages 40 to 49. Just two of the women diagnosed with melanoma younger than age 30 reported tanning outdoors, not indoors.

An accompanying editorial, signed by the former Acting Surgeon General who sounded the alarm about rising skin cancer rates, called for further steps to keep teenagers out of tanning beds, warning that “deceptive advertising by the indoor tanning industry can mislead consumers.”2

That official, Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH; joined Gery P. Guy Jr., PhD, MPH; and Lisa Richardson MD, MPH, in calling for uniform measure to prevent melanoma. The FDA seeks a nationwide ban on indoor tanning use among those under age 18, which would mirror laws in 13 states. Other states have bans on indoor tanning by teens at younger ages or require parental consent.

The rise in melanoma incidence, especially among young white women, has suggested a link to indoor tanning use, but this study is the first to examine specific age and gender associations to find trends associated with the age of melanoma diagnosis.

The authors, led by DeAnn Lazovich, PhD, acknowledged limitations of the small sample size, but nonetheless concluded, “Indoor tanning is a likely factor for the steeper increase in melanoma rates in the United State among young women compared with men, given the timing of when women initiated indoor tanning relative to the diagnosis.

“The melanoma epidemic can be expected to continue unless indoor tanning is restricted and reduced,” the authors wrote. The editorial writers concurred, saying that the industry was not strict in enforcing parental consent, and that “ongoing surveillance” would be needed to learn the impact of policies to trim indoor tanning rates to prevent a deadly disease.


1. Lazovich D, Vogel RI, Weinstock MA, et al. Association between indoor tanning and melanoma in younger men and women [published online January 27, 2016]. JAMA Dermatol 2016; doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.2938

2. Guy GP, Watson M, Richardson LC, Lushniak BD. Reducing indoor tanning—an opportunity for melanoma prevention [published online January 27, 2016]. JAMA Dermatol 2016; doi:1001/jamadermatol.2015.3007.