A person’s risk of being diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas, the most common form of skin cancer, reaches 73 percent after six or more trips to the tanning salon. A study conducted at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center has revealed that exposure to the ultraviolet radiation produced by indoor tanning products at an early age significantly increases a person’s risk of developing basal cell carcinomas before the age of 50.

"Our findings suggest that teens and young adults who seek indoor tanning may be especially vulnerable to developing BCC, the most common form of skin cancer, at a young age," the study’s lead author and co-director of the Cancer Epidemiology and Chemoprevention Research Program at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Professor Margaret Karagas, said in a statement. Karagas and her colleagues recruited 657 participants under the age of 50, who are enrolled in the New Hampshire Skin Cancer Study and were newly diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas. Data collected from each of the study’s participants included the use of indoor tanning devices such as sunlamps, tannings beds, and booths, skin sensitivity to the sun, and the amount of time spent outdoors during childhood. An additional 452 study participants who have not been diagnosed with skin cancer served as controls.

Compared to participants in the control group, early-onset basal cell carcinomas patients were more likely to report using all types of indoor tanning devices. Early-onset basal cell carcinomas were also more likely to burn during their first hour of sun exposure in summer rather than tan. Around 40 percent of basal cell carcinomas cases were located on the patient’s midsection where the link to indoor tanning was greatest. The research team supports the recommendations offered by medical groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics for minimizing exposure to ultraviolet light, especially indoor tanning products considering they produce 10 to 15 times as much UV radiation as the midday sun.

“A recent survey in New Hampshire, where our study was conducted, found that 74 percent of high schools have at least one tanning salon within 2 miles, and an additional 22 percent have easy access to a tanning salon,” added Karagas who is also director of the Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center at Dartmouth. “We need to help young people understand these risks."

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, out of the 30 million people who use indoor tanning devices in the U.S. every year, two to three million are teenagers. Although tanning beds are currently regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as Class I medical devices, similar to elastic bandages and tongue depressors, they are also on the list of most dangerous cancer-causing substances along with cigarettes and plutonium.

Source: Zens S, Li Z, Karagas M, et al. Early-Onset Basal Cell Carcinoma and Indoor Tanning: A Population-Based Study. Pediatrics. 2014.