Tanning Beds: The Risk of Radiation Burns
According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the last ten years, over 3000 indoor tanning bed related injuries required hospital treatment each year. These injuries occurred most frequently in women and were particularly high among women ages 18 to 24. A majority of these injuries occurred as a result of public tanning salons.
The three most prevalent injuries included eye injuries, fainting and radiation burns, with radiation burns accounting for nearly 80 percent of all injuries. This study was the first nationally representative study that aimed to provide estimates of indoor tanning related injuries. The results indicate that serious injuries commonly resulted because of a failure to comply with mandated time restrictions established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
What is a Radiation Burn?
A radiation burn is one of the four main types of burns caused by exposure to any form of radiation such as UV, X-ray or radio waves. Radiation burns are often shallow—ranging from first to second degree—but they can be very irritating and painful. The most hazardous long term effect of radiation burns is their potential to cause changes on the cellular level which can lead to cancer.
With respect to tanning beds, radiation burns are the result of overexposure to UV rays, specifically UVA or UVB rays. Tanning beds produce anywhere between 93 to 97 percent UVA and one to seven percent UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate to the deepest layer of the epidermis and cause the body to create melanin. UVB rays only penetrate the very top layer of the epidermis and cause the body to bring melanin to the surface of the skin. A radiation burn occurs most commonly when UVB rays begin to pop the capillaries that are located immediately below the surface of the epidermis, creating a red, raw appearance. This is similar to sunburns caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun.
It has long been known that tanning can cause radiation burns and increase the risk of developing cancer. For this reason, the FDA recommends limiting exposure to natural UV radiation and avoiding tanning beds entirely. The American Academy of Dermatology Association also opposes indoor tanning, and the World Health Organization particularly recommends that indoor tanning be avoided by minors. Despite these warnings, indoor tanning beds continue to remain popular with an estimated 30 million people using them annually.
To protect people who use tanning beds from overexposure, the FDA requires that manufacturers of tanning devices install timing devices and sets out a recommended exposure schedule. However, the most serious injuries reported in the study revealed that tanning bed timers were either malfunctioning or being intentionally bypassed and that users were falling asleep in the tanning bed leading to severe burn injuries requiring emergency department treatment and prolonged hospitalization. Furthermore, a study of North Carolina tanning salons revealed that only 5 percent of salons complied with the FDA recommended exposure schedule.
The FDA’s 2014 reclassification of indoor tanning beds requires new standards and labeling for tanning beds, but individuals should also take their own precautions to limit their risk of radiation burns and long term side effects such as cancer.