With fall on the horizon, many teens will soon look to tanning beds to maintain their summer tan. Pediatric oncologists from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center urge parents to have “the tanning bed talk” with their kids, and they offer advice on initiating this conversation.
“Using tanning beds before age 30 increases a person’s risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75%, research shows,” says Dennis Hughes, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. “So, it’s important to talk to your kids about tanning beds just like you’d discuss smoking, sex, drugs and alcohol.”
Recent data shows that 35% of 17-year-old girls have used tanning beds. And, tanning salons are increasingly prevalent, with an analysis of 116 U.S. cities showing that, on average, tanning salons outnumber Starbucks or McDonald’s.
Hughes offers these tips for talking about tanning beds.
Start the talk early.
Tanning beds can become addictive. A recent study showed that 80% of college-age tanning bed users couldn’t kick the habit. “This is why it’s so important to talk to your kids before they ever start tanning,” Hughes says.
Discuss the risks in adolescents’ terms.
Since teens often think they’re invincible, cancer may not scare them away from tanning beds. “Instead, explain that tanning will actually make them look worse,” Hughes recommends.
He suggests using these talking points:
- Tanning causes premature aging, making skin look leathery and ugly.
- Tanning causes abnormal moles, which aren’t sexy.
- These moles may have to be removed, leaving ugly scars.
Set the record straight.
Many teens will insist tanning beds are safe. That’s because tanning salons often make false and misleading claims such as:
- Tanning beds are safer than natural sunlight.
- Tanning beds provide more vitamin D than the sun.
Parents can provide a reality-check by saying:
- Tanning beds emit the same harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays as the sun. That includes UV-A rays, which increase a person’s risk for melanoma.
- Few young people have a vitamin D deficiency. Most get enough vitamin D from food and daily comings and goings. “Plus, you usually get too much ultraviolet light from tanning beds,” Hughes says. “And, that can actually cause you to lose vitamin D.”
Offer safe alternatives.
Still getting pushback? Parents can offer to pay for a safe alternative: spray tans, lotions or other self-tanning products.
These products provide the same bronzed look as tanning beds — without skin cancer risks or skin damage.
Be a role model.
To get their message across, parents should make sure they’re setting a good example.
“Don’t use tanning beds, or your children probably won’t listen when you say to avoid them,” Hughes says. “So, get comfortable in your own non-tanned skin and start the conversation.”
For more tips on talking to kids about tanning, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.