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New bill would help inform public of tanning concerns

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Carol Kimball of Sun Sensations sanitizes a tanning bed.
SIKESTON -- As the skin cancer rate soars in the United States, a new bill recently introduced to Congress sets out to better inform the public of the irreversible damage indoor-tanning exposure can cause.

In February, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., along with Rep. Ginny Brown-

Waite, R-Fla., introduced into Congress the Tanning Accountability and Notification Act.

Dubbed the TAN Act, this bill would require the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tanning equipment, to determine whether the current labeling of indoor-tanning beds adequately informs the public of the risks associated with using them.

"To be honest, I don't think people pay attention to the labels on the tanning beds," said Melanie Ramey, owner of The Sun Club in Sikeston.

Ramey said the FDA's current label basically states as with natural sunlight, tanning bed users should avoid overexposure to prevent eye and skin injury and allergic reactions. It also says it may cause premature aging of skin and skin cancer and that untanned persons should not tan on consecutive days, among other things, she said.

"It's pretty detailed now as it is," Ramey said about the label.

The bill would also require the FDA to hold public hearings, solicit comments from the public and report to Congress the determinations it makes in the study.

"I don't think you should tan, but if I were going to make a label, it should say it is clear that tanning in a bed increases the risk of skin cancer and no degree of tanning is safe," said Dr. Cully Bryant, who practices at Ferguson Medical Group in Sikeston.

The American Cancer Society estimates this year 111,900 Americans will be stricken with melanoma, which is associated with excessive ultra-violet light exposure.

At current rates, a person's lifetime risk of invasive melanoma -- the most deadly form of skin cancer, is 1 in 60. Last year the number was 1 in 62 for invasive melanoma. For any kind of melanoma, the risk is now 1 in 32.

"I'm not discounting risks, but people need to know more of the benefits of exposure to the UV rays," Ramey said.

Through her own research, Ramey said she has found benefits of exposure to ultraviolet rays. She said UV rays help increase vitamin D, which is rare in the diet. It is believed that healthy doses of the vitamin help the body ward off diseases such as cancer and osteoporosis.

As the owner of a tanning service, Ramey said she believes there is a need to address the pros and cons to tanning, which is why she discusses overexposure with new clients.

Ramey also offers the tanning bed alternative -- airbrush tanning. The sunless tanning is utilized by all types of people and skin types -- from those with fair skin and pregnant women to women who don't want to tan by bed or who don't have the time, she said.

Brenda Wey, owner of Southern Aire Beauty and Tanning Salon in Sikeston, said she has men and women ranging in age from 13 to 72 who tan. The average customer tans for about 20 minutes, coming every day, every other day or once a week.

"A lot of times they will tan because the doctor will tell them it will help with chirosis, arthritis or acne," Wey said.

But Bryant isn't convinced any good comes from tanning.

"I think there is still an ongoing misconception that indoor tanning is safe or safer than outdoor tanning, but that is not true," Bryant said.

Another misconception is people think if they lay in a tanning bed and get a little bit of a tan, they'll be protected, Bryant said. Again that isn't the case, he said.

"When exposed to the sun, the skin tans because it's being damaged and it's the same process as with a tanning bed," Bryant said.

And regardless of skin type, the risk for developing skin damage and/or cancer, is there, Bryant said.

"Dark-skinned individuals are going to have a natural protection, but it doesn't prevent them from getting it (skin cancer)," Bryant said.

Bryant said it's believed skin cancers occurring in people in their 50s, 60s or older can be attributed to sun exposure when they were children or young adults.

"The greatest thing in the world is sunscreen, and you can't use it enough," Bryant said. "And even if you aren't worried about skin cancer, damage on your skin will catch up with you."

Cosmetic damage is evident said Bryant, a medical doctor who also started an aesthetic enhancement center in Sikeston.

"When you're 22 and you a get tan, you look good," Bryant said. "And by 42, and you get a tan, your skin looks like 62 with blotches, spots and wrinkles."

But like anything else, people are going to do whatever they want regardless of a label.

"If they're going to do it," Ramey said. "They're going to do it anyway."

Currently, the TAN Act is with Congress and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Health. The bill number is HB 4767.