In a recent briefing before the United States Congress, healthcare organizations representing dermatologists, ophthalmologists, general surgeons and other physicians, spoke about the dangers of indoor tanning, highlighting that the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of tanning beds as Group 1 — carcinogenic to humans, the highest cancer risk category. Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.

Studies also have demonstrated that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation during indoor tanning can lead to eye damage. Tanning beds can produce UV levels up to 100 times what you would get from the sun, which can cause serious damage to the external and internal structures of the eye and eyelids.

"UV damage to the eyes may result in the development of cataracts . . . as well as cancer of the uvea, which is the middle layer of tissue under the white of the eye," explains Philip R. Rizzuto, MD, an ophthalmologist and associate clinical professor of surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He specializes in ophthalmic plastic reconstructive and orbital surgery, including skin cancer removal and repair. "UV damage is cumulative. That's why teens and young adults should be particularly careful to protect their eyes from sun exposure." In addition to avoiding the harmful UV levels of tanning beds, while outdoors, ophthalmologists (Eye MDs) recommend that you wear 99 percent and higher UV–absorbent sunglasses and a brimmed hat, as well as appropriate SPF sun block on the face.

While many teens and young adults — particularly females — acknowledge that indoor tanning is dangerous, they continue to tan indoors. A recent U.S. survey by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) shows that the majority of indoor tanners (86 percent) think using tanning beds can cause skin cancer, yet 87 percent of indoor tanners still think that people look more attractive with a tan. The partners in this public awareness campaign emphasize that instead of being a sign of good health, a tan is actually the body's response to damage from ultraviolet light.

Early signs of age-related eye diseases, including cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration can begin in midlife but often do not noticeably affect your vision until later. That's why ophthalmologists say it is so important to get a baseline comprehensive eye exam by an Eye M.D. at age 40, even for people who have no symptoms or known risk factors.

Partners in this indoor tanning public health awareness initiative include American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American College of Physicians (ACP), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Medical Association (AMA), American Osteopathic Association (AOA), Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF), National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention (NCSCP) and The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF).

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Page updated: Apr. 29, 2014

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