Feeling the Burn: Tanning Tied to Injuries

Indoor tanning beds tied to preventable skin burns, eye injuries and unconsciousness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Indoor tanning may mean burns and other injuries rather than just sun-kissed skin. The simple way to avoid these injuries? Avoiding tanning altogether or taking some simple precautions.

Scientists have known for some time that the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation of indoor tanning beds can cause skin cancer. And, in a new study of people treated in US emergency rooms, researchers found that skin burns, passing out and eye injuries could also occur. Although a “healthy tan” may be seen as attractive, all tanning causes skin damage. Indoor tanning can cause wrinkles and premature aging of the skin.

All of these tanning injuries were likely preventable, the authors of this study noted. The FDA recommends limiting natural UV exposure and avoiding tanning beds entiretly. The American Academy of Dermatology Association opposes indoor tanning as well as the World Health Organization recommendation that minors not use indoor tanning equipment.

The authors of this study wrote that “… this study provides the first nationally representative estimates of indoor tanning–related injuries, allowing for continued monitoring of such injuries. Compliance with current federal and state regulations could be monitored to identify opportunities to decrease harm from indoor tanning. A decrease in indoor tanning could reduce associated injuries and future cases of skin cancer.”

Gery P. Guy Jr., PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, led this study. Dr. Guy and team analyzed injury data from a number of hospitals throughout the US. These injuries occurred from 2003 to 2012.

These researchers found 405 nonfatal indoor tanning-related injuries that required treatment in an emergency room. During the study period, an estimated 3,234 indoor tanning-related injuries occurred in US hospitals each year.

Women accounted for the majority of the tanning-related injuries — 82.2 percent of those injured were women.

More than half of the injuries occurred in people younger than 35. Thirty-five percent of the injuries occurred in the 18- to 24-year-old group. Twenty-six percent of the injuries occurred in the 25- to 34-year-old group.

Skin burns were the most common injury — accounting for 79.5 percent of the injuries. Syncope, or passing out, came next, at 9.5 percent of the injuries. Eye injuries accounted for 5.8 percent of the total.

The remaining injuries were from cuts or other causes, such as vomiting, skin rashes and itching.

Dr. Guy and colleagues noted that, although the FDA requires tanning beds to have timers, some of the injuries were because the user fell asleep while tanning and slept too long, indicating the timer alarm did not work properly.

Total indoor tanning-related injuries decreased from 6,487 in 2003 to 1,957 in 2012. A reduction in indoor tanning is the most likely cause of the decreased injuries, Dr. Guy and team said.

The FDA says people should not use indoor tanning because of the risk of skin cancer. Some states require parental consent for those younger than 18 to use a tanning bed.

Some medications can increase the risk of tanning bed injury. Check with your doctor before tanning if you take any medications.

This study was published online Dec. 15 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 15, 2014
Last Updated:
December 19, 2014