New Bern, NC – Memorial Day weekend is generally marked as the start of the summer holiday season and with the holiday season come thoughts to acquiring a summer tan.
"We know that it is prevalent around certain time periods such as proms or preparation for summer and those types of things."
Dr. Robert Clark, a physician with the Cary Skin Center and the president-elect of the North Carolina Dermatology Association. He's referring to a time frame where a spike in activity at tanning salons can be seen, something that concerns the medical community. A WebMD article bluntly stated "Want Melanoma? Get a Tan," and a report released at the end of May from the Brown University School of Medicine says people who have used tanning beds were 74% more likely to get melanoma the most serious form of skin cancer than others. Statistics such as that have prompted the Dermatology Association and several other medical groups to get behind legislation in the state Senate they hope might slow the rate of melanoma.
"Basically it says for individuals 13-17 would require a prescription from their physician stating that they need this type of ultraviolet radiation exposure to treat some type of skin condition."
Dr. Clark is referring to Senate Bill 471. Current law allows a teen between the ages of 13-and-18 to use tanning beds with parental permission. SB471 would only allow tanning bed usage for those under 18 with physician approval. That could affect the number of teenaged girls who patronize tanning salons the FDA says 35% of 17-year-old girls use tanning machines. And while there's danger from too much outdoor sun exposure, Dr. Clark says that danger can be intensified with indoor tanning.
"One of the major differences is that the UV radiation that someone is exposed to in indoor tanning can be much more intense than the natural sunlight that one would receive. Measurements have indicated that you can be exposed to 15 times the amount of radiation in a short amount of time than you could get during exposure to the sun."
Supporters of the bill which has bi-partisan support among its three co-sponsor, all physicians say there would be little harm to the bottom line of tanning salons as the teens could migrate to spray-tans which Dr. Clark says provides similar results with much less risk.
"As far as I know there is no danger with the spray tan. There are actual topical preparations that are placed on the surface of the skin. The dye or the component is incorporated into the upper layer of the skin called the stratum corneum and it produces a tan appearance."
It might slow traffic at the salons, however. Dr. Clark says his understanding is a spray tan might need to be applied on a weekly basis while tanning bed usage might require multiple trips in a week to maintain an even tan. Dr. Clark is a parent and says he understands those who raise concerns that the state would be interfering with parental decisions regarding their children.
"I would compare this to smoking or consumption of alcohol. Smoking in general is closely correlated to cancer. We know also that ultraviolet radiation induces cancer in the skin and I think it's a cancer causing agent which would warrant some regulation so that an individual could be of a mature age to make a decision. We do regulate these types of activities as it pertains to certain things so I think it falls within the purview of wanting to protect a young person from doing things that would be harmful to them in the future."
SB471 has passed a Senate Health Care committee and is now before the Commerce committee. Dr. Robert Clark is the president-elect of the North Carolina Dermatology Association. I'm George Olsen.