Wellness: Banning Tanning? Not Yet.

May 23 2012, 11:01 AM

In light of the "Tanning Mom" national paparazzi explosion earlier this month and some recent legislative discussion over proposed tanning restrictions in Colorado, it seems appropriate to note that May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s the thing: UV rays from a day out in the natural Colorado sunshine will certainly wreak havoc on your skin, but tanning beds will also increase the likelihood of skin cancer and premature aging.

One of the Skin Cancer Foundation’s recommendations for reducing your risk of skin cancer is to “avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.” Just four yearly visits to a tanning salon can increase your risk of skin cancer by 15 percent. Even so, a recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology shows that teenagers disregard the health risks of tanning—even if they’re fully informed of them—in the name of looking more attractive. (Where does the notion that tanned skin is equivalent to physical beauty even come from?)

Colorado is one of a dozen states without tanning restrictions for minors. Restrictions range from mandating parental consent if you’re under 18 to parental accompaniment if you’re under 16 or a total ban on tanning for minors (California was the first state to pass the ban earlier this year). Translation: Colorado teenagers can hit the tanning booth as many times a week as they want, no parental permission needed. This is problematic in a state with a melanoma diagnosis rate that’s 15 percent higher than the national average—and the 13th highest in the country. Some lawmakers agree, and proposed a law during the legislative session which would have required those under 18 to prove parental consent at the tanning salon, and those under 14 to have a parent or guardian present on site during the tanning session.

But the bill, by unanimous committee vote, was postponed indefinitely before the  session ended. Why hold off such a seemingly smart piece of legislation—one that’s aimed at protecting the health of our youth? Simple: Health groups and skin cancer prevention advocacy groups like the Colorado Dermatologic Society opposed the measure in favor of a complete ban. They wouldn’t rally behind it because it’s not a big enough step—the outcome of similar legislation in other states has proven that these types of restrictions are unenforceable and ineffective. We just hope the young people in Colorado are smart enough, in the meantime, to take their health into their own hands. 

Keep an eye out for an upcoming "Sun Safety Event" at the Denver Botanic Gardens on June 9.

Image via Shutterstock