SkinCancerNet Article
Getting Burned by Tanning Beds
Melanoma Survivors Support Tough Regulations for Indoor Tanning

Patient Profile
Two women from Pennsylvania live in a constant state of dread and uncertainty about the future. Foremost on their minds is the worry that they may not live long enough to raise their children. Getting melanoma has completely changed their lives.

One can hear the anger in their voices when they ask why they were not informed of the risks associated with tanning-bed use. Roxanne Smith and Diana Schaffer fervently hope that their state government will take the action needed to regulate indoor tanning in Pennsylvania so that others will know the risks.

To help convince their legislators and others of these risks, these women agreed to share their experiences with the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy).

Roxanne Smith, 46
“I Would Never Have Used Tanning Beds If I Had Known the Risks”
In 1996, Roxanne Smith lived a healthy lifestyle. She did not smoke, never drank, and exercised regularly. She firmly believed in avoiding risky behaviors.

Encouraged by a friend who regularly used tanning beds, Roxanne believed that the look of a tan fit her healthy lifestyle. For four years, she frequented tanning salons in Pennsylvania.

Roxanne never thought that she was at risk for skin cancer. She has brown hair and brown eyes, fewer than 15 moles, rarely burns, and does not have a family history of skin cancer.

However, while using tanning beds, Roxanne did notice changes on her skin. She developed seborrheic keratoses (non-cancerous lesions that may resemble a mole and vary in color from light tan to black), skin tags, and a blotchy complexion. She was not aware that these changes, while common in aging skin, typically do not occur until much later in life — usually after midlife. Roxanne was in her 30s.

The skin changes did not deter her. To maintain that “healthy looking” tan, Roxanne kept using tanning beds. However, a woman she knew who also was using tanning beds decided it was time to quit after she developed similar changes on her skin. Looking back, Roxanne wishes she, too, had stopped tanning then. Today, she wonders if she would have been diagnosed with melanoma if she had stopped using tanning beds sooner.

Roxanne is convinced that tanning-bed use caused her melanoma. Roxanne says, “I have three sisters. One is a redhead who has many freckles and moles. Two are blonde. We all received the same amount of sun exposure growing up. I am the only one who used tanning beds, and I am the only one with melanoma.”

Several other women whom Roxanne met through tanning salons also have developed skin cancer. The friend who encouraged Roxanne to try tanning beds has been diagnosed with stage III melanoma.

Living with melanoma has profoundly affected Roxanne’s life. She and her husband can no longer enjoy their sailboat and decided to sell it. All summer long, Roxanne swelters in pants and long sleeves. She worries that her 10-year-old daughter does not apply enough sunscreen. When she gets a headache or feels sore after exercising, she fears that it is a sign the melanoma has returned or spread.

Roxanne knows that her life will never be carefree again. She urges her state legislators to pass legislation that will inform people of the risks of indoor tanning, so that others do not have to suffer the same fate.

Diana Shaffer, 24
“Why Do We Let Tanning Beds Kill People?”

When Diana Shaffer started using tanning beds at the age of 14, she had no idea that the beds exposed her to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) light. She was told that as long as she wore eye protection and waited 24 hours between sessions everything would be okay. She followed these two guidelines. After eight years of using tanning beds, Diana was diagnosed with melanoma.

Diana firmly believes that tanning beds caused her melanoma. “I think I became addicted to tanning,” she recalls. “In the beginning, I went two or three times a week. Before I knew it, I was going more often. I wanted to go everyday after school because it was relaxing.” Despite turning “crispy brown” and warnings from her mother that she should stop, Diana continued to tan. “I always thought that I was not tan enough.”

At age 24, she wonders why people can legally continue to tell customers that tanning beds are safe — even healthy. Not long ago, while shopping for furniture she recalls that a salesperson tried to sell her a tanning bed. She declined, explaining that she has been diagnosed with melanoma. The salesperson persisted saying it was safe because the light bulbs had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

After this experience Diana asked, “Why do we continue to let tanning beds kill people?” She urges her state legislators to pass legislation that prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed. Diana invites everyone reading this who wants the look of a tan to use a self-tanning lotion or spray-on tan — never a tanning bed. Diana pleads, “Don’t believe that if you use a tanning bed you will not be the one who gets skin cancer. Ask yourself, ‘Why wouldn’t I get skin cancer?’”

Tougher Laws Needed
The Academy supports these women’s pleas and endorses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation that no person under the age of 18 should use a tanning bed.

State legislators in Texas, California, and Tennessee have worked vigorously to enact tough legislation restricting the use of indoor tanning facilities, especially among minors. The Academy encourages more states to consider the WHO recommendation and urges states to enact and enforce regulations that prohibit indoor tanning for minors.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association supports the following requirements for indoor tanning facilities:

  • No minor should be permitted to use tanning devices.

  • A Surgeon General’s warning should be placed on all tanning devices.

  • No person or facility should advertise the use of any ultraviolet A or ultraviolet B tanning device using wording such as “safe,” “safe tanning,” “no harmful rays,” “no adverse effect,” or similar wording or concepts.

Roxanne and Diane adamantly believe these requirements should be the law in Pennsylvania. As laws, these regulations will save lives and prevent countless people from living every day with the fear and uncertainty that a life-threatening disease brings.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

With brown hair and brown eyes, Roxanne Smith never thought she was at risk for skin cancer.

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Page last updated 10/4/06

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