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Indoor UV Tanning Testimony

<p>before the Colorado Senate Health Committee</p>

before the Colorado Senate Health Committee

When I was 5, my mother took me to buy Buster Brown shoes. She said “years ago, they used a machine to measure shoe fit with X-rays, but stores don’t have them anymore.” Perhaps some readers remember fluoroscopes. They emitted X-ray radiation to see foot bones through a shoe. Fluoroscopes were used from 1922 until 1960.  During those years, radiation was increasingly viewed as something to be avoided. In 1946, the year after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American Standards Association established fluoroscope “safe standard or tolerance dose,” per exposure. Children were not to receive more than 12 exposures per year.   By the early 1950s, the American College of Surgeons, New York Academy of Medicine and the American College of Radiology issued warnings.  In 1957, Pennsylvania became the first state to ban the use of shoe-fitting fluoroscopes. By 1960, they were no longer permitted in the U.S.

Now, nearly 50 years later, Colorado has a unique opportunity.  This great state, with its pioneering history, has a chance to lead toward better health for children.  Colorado has the opportunity to restrict a well-known carcinogen that young people are exposed to in alarming numbers; ultraviolet light.

Ultraviolet (UV) light is a form of ionizing radiation, which causes cancer. Tanning bed radiation causes skin cancer, including melanoma. The incidence of skin cancer is increasing rapidly. Young persons, especially girls, use UV tanning beds frequently. 

In young women, the incidence of melanoma is increasing faster than any other cancer.  It is difficult to overemphasize melanoma’s devastating potential.  If caught late, melanoma is arguably the most deadly cancer, with no known cure, and even no known treatment. Melanoma has some unique and sinister abilities. For one, it can cross the placenta. This means that melanoma skin cancer can rarely metastasize from a mother to a fetus, leading to its certain death.

In spite of all we know regarding the dangers of ultraviolet radiation, it is still being peddled to teenagers, against a backdrop of peer pressure. Why?  What causes our society to allow irradiation of its young people? Misinformation is rampant.

Sunlight is natural, so isn't tanning okay?  Natural does not mean benign. Poison ivy, asbestos, and uranium occur naturally, but certainly are best avoided.

Why does tanning feel good?  UV radiation injures the skin, and sunbathers’ bodies release endorphins (like a runner's high) to compensate.  Tanning is addictive.  Like smoking, UV tanning is both addictive and carcinogenous, a potentially deadly combination.

Aren't tanning beds safer than sun tanning?  UV radiation from tanning beds is in no way safer than sunlight and can be more dangerous. “High pressure” UVA lamps at tanning parlors emit far more UVA radiation than the sun at noon in the summer.

Do tanning beds provide a protective tan?  Tanning beds provide some protection to a person’s non-tanned skin. If you've ever been burned (most people have) you are at risk for skin cancer.  Tanning pales in comparison to sunblock, which provides 30x or greater protection.  People who think they have a protective tan from tanning beds often overexpose themselves on vacation, leading to higher radiation exposure and greater risk of skin cancer.

Isn't Vitamin D production important?  Vitamin D is produced in the skin.  Adequate vitamin D levels are obtained after 20 minutes sun exposure a week with only the face and hands exposed.  In normal circumstance, it is hard to avoid the sun to the point of vitamin D deficiency. Moreover, vitamin D is readily available in milk, fortified orange juice,  vitamin tablets and fatty fish.  These are safe ways to get Vitamin D.

What about tanning businesses? Unlike the tobacco industry, which doesn’t have a real product alternative to tobacco, there is an economically viable alternative tan.  Spray-on tanning is non-carcinogenic, looks good, and generates income for salons.

Isn’t parental permission good enough?  A parent’s primary goal is to protect their child.  A parent who gives permission to their child to use radiation likely does not understand.  If parents should be allowed to decide, by analogy, they should also decide regarding buying cigarettes.  Also, ignoring parental regulations is a frequent teen behavior.

Ironically, often the very persons who work the hardest to maintain a tan are most at risk from the tan they seek. There is no such thing as a safe tan. There is no known safe level of UV radiation exposure.

We are yet to see the full ravaging effects of tanning bed use in the U.S.

Let’s act now, and become advocates for skin and for Colorado’s adolescents.


It is important to acknowledge that radiation is used, under controlled circumstances, for treatment of cancer and other diseases. Dermatologists use ultraviolet radiation for treatment of severe psoriasis and eczema.

How the Colorado Legislature failed.

Denver Post op/ed piece regarding the Legislature's failure.

(This talk was modified from the original testimony to better fit the site.)

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