Family Matters

Why Kids and Tanning Salons Don’t Mix

Vermont and California are the only two states that ban kids under 18 from using tanning salons. Is it time for more states to follow their lead?

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Whether or not Patricia Krentcil, New Jersey’s newly notorious tanning mom, actually allowed her 6-year-old daughter to be bombarded with ultraviolet radiation at a tanning salon is not yet clear.

Krentcil, who has been charged with second-degree child endangerment, says her daughter, Anna, didn’t enter the tanning booth; she just accompanied her mom to the salon and waited while mom got her UV blast. Anna’s sunburn — which the girl told a school nurse resulted from tanning “with mommy” — suggests otherwise.

What’s pretty clear is that kids and tanning booths don’t mix. Earlier this week, Vermont enshrined that into law, joining California in banning kids under 18 from tanning salons. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls upon pediatricians to support similar legislation in the other 48 states (Howard County, Md., also has a ban in place).

(MORE: Why Teens Sunbathe More, Use Sunscreen Less)

Most states require kids be at least 18 to purchase cigarettes, which are known to cause lung cancer. Health experts say tanning booth access should be similarly regulated, since they’re also a carcinogen: rates of melanoma — the deadliest of the three kinds of skin cancer — are rising, particularly in young women, the same demographic who likes to tan indoors.

“It would be nice if there would be federal legislation, but there is a lot of pressure from the industry,” says Dr. Sophie Balk, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the lead author of the AAP’s statement on UV radiation.

According to the policy, pediatricians should advise parents to steer clear of sunburns and suntans:

When feasible, outdoor activities should be planned to limit exposure to peak-intensity midday sun (10 AM to 4 PM). Sunglasses should be worn when working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, running errands, or doing anything in the sun.

Sunscreen should be used when a child or adolescent might sunburn. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher should be applied every two hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. People may wish to avoid using sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, which may have weak estrogenic effects when absorbed through the skin. However, using sunscreen is recommended to decrease the known risks of sun exposure and sunburning, both of which raise the risk of developing skin cancer.

(MORE: In Young Tanners, Fear of Wrinkling Is Worse than Cancer)

Tanning isn’t good for anyone,” says Balk, who is also an attending pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York. “Tanning means there has been DNA damage.”

As for Krentcil — a life-long sun worshipper — she appears to fit the category of “tanorexic,” someone addicted to getting that golden glow.

Tanning addicts continue patronizing tanning salons despite dire warnings from dermatologists about the dangers because they think they look good — and they feel good.

“The feeling good is actually real,” says Dr. T. Byran Karasu, psychiatrist-in-chief at Montefiore Medical Center, who has treated tanning addicts with antidepressants. “Whatever it does, producing endorphins or Vitamin D, people do actually feel good after exposure to sun or sun-like radiation.”

(MORE: Fake Tans Help Keep Women Out of the Sun)

But adults should never be tempted to share the experience — or the good feelings — with children. Says Karasu: “That is child abuse.”