Tanning beds could soon come with a warning label, alerting users to the risk of skin cancer and noting that the devices shouldn't be used by people under 18.
Those changes could come through a new proposal from the Food and Drug Administration, which today announced plans to change the way that the sunlamps used in tanning beds are regulated.
Today, these tanning lamps, which emit ultraviolet radiation, are regulated as "low-risk," class 1 devices, in the same category as tongue depressors and Band-Aids. These products aren't required to be reviewed before going on the market, said Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
Under the proposed change, tanning lamps would be considered class 2 devices, in the same category as CT scanners, which also expose people to radiation, Shuren said.
If the proposed order is finalized, "There will be requirements that products have to meet in order to go on the market," Shuren said. Tanning machines also will warn customers not to use them if they have skin cancer or open skin lesions, or if they have a family history of skin cancer.
An FDA advisory panel first suggested making the change in 2010, Shuren said.
Reviewing tanning machines before they're sold would help the FDA ensure they're working safely, Shuren said.
Shuren said he's concerned about software problems in the machines that make timers malfunction, causing people to get excess radiation, and electrical failures that have led to customers getting burned.
Research shows that 58% of teens who use tanning beds get sunburned, along with 66% of female college students, Shuren said. Researchers found that these college students got burned one in every five times that they tanned.
"You're supposed to be able to tan without burning in these machines," Shuren said.
Tanning lamps expose people to 10 times as much ultraviolet light as the sun, Shuren said. The World Health Organization classifies ultraviolet light as a carcinogen, in the same category as cigarette smoke.
Just one session in a tanning booth increases the risk of melanoma by 74%, Shuren said.
In a statement, the American Suntanning Association, which represents tanning salon owners, said, "The professional sunbed community has not had any input in this preliminary proposal thus far. We remain dedicated to sunburn prevention and look forward to working with the FDA to improve consumer protection and to assure that all information regarding indoor tanning is in accordance with the science."
Physician Mary Maloney, a spokeswoman for the the American Academy of Dermatology, said, "We couldn't be happier. We are proud and pleased."
Ultimately, Maloney said she would like to see the FDA prohibit children under age 18 from using tanning beds. "This is a starting point," Maloney said. "There is more work to be done."
California and Vermont already prohibit minors from using tanning beds, as do the cities of Chicago and Springfield, Ill. New York and New Jersey ban children under age 17 from using tanning beds.
About 2.3 million teens use tanning beds every year, said Maloney, noting that the USA is in the peak of tanning season, as girls get ready for the prom and women prepare for spring weddings.
Maloney blames tanning beds for much of the recent increase in melanoma among young women. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is now the most common form of cancer among people ages 25 to 29.