Indoor tanning can send people to the emergency room for burns, eye injuries and losing consciousness, according to U.S. health officials.
“It’s important for people to understand both the long-term and the short-term risks of indoor tanning,” said Gery P. Guy Jr. of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
Many immediate risks are also associated with higher risk of health issues later on, like skin cancer, said Guy.
“For example, burns increase the risk of skin cancer later in life, while eye injuries from intense UV exposure may lead to cataracts and eye melanoma,” he told Reuters Health by email. “People trying to get tan to look good need to understand that they might get a burn rather than a tan, and that tanned skin is also damaged skin.”
Using data from a sample of U.S. emergency rooms, the researchers identified 405 cases of nonfatal injury caused by indoor tanning between 2003 and 2012.
They estimate that tanning beds/booths caused 3,234 visits to the hospital for such injuries in the U.S. each year during the study.
More than 80 percent of patients in the study data were female and nearly 80 percent were white. Patients commonly came from a public setting, like a tanning salon - rather than a booth in their own homes.
Most people suffered skin burns, while 10 percent had fainted and almost 6 percent had eye injuries including burns, inflamed corneas or foreign objects embedded in the eye.
Most patients were treated in the ER and released without being admitted to the hospital, the authors write in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Indoor tanning injuries have decreased from more than 6,000 in 2003 to about 2,000 in 2012, probably because indoor tanning has decreased over time, the authors write.
The CDC recommends people avoid indoor tanning.
Indoor tanning devices tend to emit much more intense ultraviolet radiation than people get from sun exposure, Guy said.
“Ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of skin cancer, and a severe burn clearly indicates damage to the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer later in life,” he said. “A few case reports described tanners fainting in tanning booths, leading to head injuries and broken bones.”
In an editor’s note, Dr. Joseph Ross of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut writes that in the past year in the U.S., more than one-third of adults, including more than half of university students, have used an indoor tanning facility, according to estimates, exposing themselves to high-pressure sunlamp products that emit ultraviolet light and radiation.
In 2007, a working group affiliated with World Health Organization found that people who used tanning beds before their 30th birthday were 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma.
And one past study showed that 24 out of 10,000 women who regularly used tanning beds developed melanoma, compared to 17 of 10,000 women who rarely or never used them.
“Unfortunately, it has taken years for the cultural mystique of the ‘healthy tan’ to be replaced by an informed understanding of the risks of tanning, both indoor and outdoor, including premature skin aging, eye damage, and melanoma and other skin cancers,” Ross writes.
Even the injury numbers in the new study are likely a substantial underestimate since they do not include people who did not seek treatment at an ER, but used aloe vera gel, moisturizing lotions and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines for pain, he writes.
Although some states have age restrictions on tanning salons, “more should be done to limit the use of indoor tanning among young adults and adolescents,” Ross adds.