An estimated 1,957 indoor tanners landed in U.S. emergency rooms in 2012 after burning their skin or eyes, fainting or suffering other injuries, researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.
The good news is that such injuries fell from 6,487 in 2003, says a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The report is the first nationally representative look at immediate injuries related to indoor tanning, says CDC researcher Gery Guy.
“We’ve seen several studies showing indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma,” contributing to about 400,000 cancers a year in the United States, he says. “We’re looking at more acute injuries.”
Using data from 66 hospital emergency departments, the researchers estimated nationwide injury numbers for 2003-12. The fact that numbers fell over time might be explained by declining use of tanning beds, booths and lamps, Guy says.
A tanning industry spokesman says the numbers suggest indoor tanning is safe and getting safer. An estimated 1 million people use indoor tanning facilities each day, so the injury rates in the study are tiny, says John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. And the drop in injuries far exceeds any recent drop in customers, Overstreet says.
“These businesses take the welfare of the customers seriously,” he says. “Injured customers are unhappy customers, and staff is trained to show the customer how to use the equipment properly and make sure people are not overexposed or sunburned.”
Guy says the actual number of injuries is certainly higher because the study did not include injured people who did not go to emergency rooms. The prevalence of burns, he says, suggests users or salon personnel sometimes misuse timers required on the devices. For example, he says, some operators may allow light-skinned or new users to stay in longer than recommended by manufacturers.
The report says 5% of injuries occurred at home and 64% occurred in public places, including salons and gyms. The rest of the locations were unreported.
Nearly 80% of the injuries were skin burns, 6% were eye injuries and 9.5% involved people who got dizzy or passed out, probably from overheating, Guy says. The rest were cuts and other injuries.
Such skin burns, like outdoor sunburns, increase the risk of skin cancer, he says, while eye burns increase the risk of cataracts and eye melanoma.
A majority of the injured were young white women; about 13% were under age 18. Under new Food and Drug Administration rules, tanning devices will soon have to carry labels warning against use by people under 18.
The injury findings “are not surprising,” says dermatologist Darrel Rigel, a clinical professor at New York University Medical Center in New York.
“The burns I’ve seen have been pretty intense, the kind that can leave a scar,” he says. “It’s a serious problem.”
Tanners, he says, should see their habit like smoking — something that could hurt them every time they do it and could kill them later.
“The earlier you start, the worse it is,” he says. “But, like with cigarette smoking, it always pays to stop.”