West Houston Dermatology

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Laws Tightening on Tanning Salons: Kudos to California

Thanks to the efforts of the American Academy of Dermatology, the California Society of Dermatology, and lawmakers, California now has the most stringent laws in the US regulating access to tanning beds and booths to people under the age of 18.  This law does not merely require children and teens to have express, written parental consent to tan – it prohibits the use of indoor tanning devices for all Californians under the age of 18.  The bill signed into law by the governor is aimed at helping to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in the future by shielding youth from the risks of indoor tanning.  Empirical scientific data shows that exposure to UV radiation from both the sun and artificial sources like tanning beds is a known carcinogen that can lead to melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer.  Statistics reveal that in the US roughly 30 million people use tanning beds and booths, and of those 30 million, 2.3 million are teenagers.  These risks are real and not hyped by dermatologists.  There is no such thing as a safe tanning bed or tanning booth, despite what advertising may claim.  What people fail to realize is that the golden brown appearance from the sun or tanning beds is skin cell damage.  Based on the number of cases of skin cancer diagnosed on an annual basis (roughly 3.5 million per year in 2 million people), dermatologists can reasonably estimate that 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives.  Though some people find the restrictions to be an interference with individual autonomy, the law is no more restrictive than prohibiting teens from buying and smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol.  Obviously, the law will not stop teens from lying on the beach or by the pool, but dermatologists hope that it will serve as a strong reminder about the dangers of unprotected exposure to the sun.  If teens really need a tan for prom or a special occasion, there are many alternatives to tanning beds, such as professional spray tanning.  Even skin products purchased at drug stores and department stores can be used in the home to deliver very good, natural appearing results.  Though no such law is in place for Texas teens, Dr. Mahoney and his staff at West Houston Dermatology hope teens and adults alike will protect their skin.  We cannot go back in time and obliterate the risk of past sunburns and sun exposure, but there is something patients can do:  check their skin routinely for the appearance of moles, lesions or spots that appear abnormal and bring them to the attention of your dermatologist.  Moles are normal, but when they change color and shape it can be a warning sign.