FDA Proposes Tanning Bed Warning Labels

The goal of the plan is to get minors out of tanning salons.


The FDA doesn’t want this to be you. Photo via Shutterstock

First cigarettes and alcohol, now tanning beds. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has unveiled a plan to target the danger of minors tanning by putting warning labels in salons nationwide. The labels would spell out the dangers of tanning for young people, since early use of the sun lamps increases an individual’s risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancer.

Boston Globe article quotes the FDA’s statement explaining the labels:

“It provides a warning on the consequences,” the FDA said, namely that “there is a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer,” in those who have used a tanning bed once, and that risk rises with each use.

The move comes just a month after New Jersey banned indoor tanning for teens under 17 and spray tanning for those under 14, joining Vermont and New York in the tan ban battle. Massachusetts, too, drafted legislation (which was passed by the state Senate) to ban tanning for minors without parental consent or a doctor’s note, though nothing has come of it since it was passed last year. If you ask us, the Commonwealth would do well to reexamine the proposition of tightening tanning restrictions, since the rate of melanoma in the New England states, including Massachusetts, is higher than the national average. In fact, from 2001-2005, Massachusetts had a 26 percent higher rate of new melanoma diagnoses than the national average. In other words, it’s a real problem here.

Despite that lull, if Boston’s current treatment of beauty-related health risks is any indication, it may not be long until the state takes action. The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is already hard on tanning salons and requires the shops to post this in-your-face warning label, making us think that the FDA’s proposed labels wouldn’t be a huge step up from the current requirements. Plus, the BPHC created the Safe Nail Salons Project in 2011 to better regulate the health standards of nail salons across the city, so tanning salons seem like a logical next step. The FDA’s proposition may be just the push the city needs.

The question is, would the FDA’s plan work? We’re not so sure. The dangers of using tanning beds are already extremely well-documented and widespread, yet people continue to use them. If people have ignored the countless studies, articles, and reports urging them to stop tanning in the past, why would a warning label stop them now? Plus, if you ask us, the campaign shouldn’t only be limited to minors—we should be discouraging adults, too. More awareness and more aggressive prevention techniques are always a good thing, but only time will tell if the warning label model would make a serious positive change.