ST. LOUIS — Nearly two-thirds of Missouri tanning salons allow children as young as 10 or 12 to use tanning beds, and many provide misinformation about the dangers of the practice, according to a 2007 Washington University study released Monday.
Dermatologists at the university's school of medicine in St. Louis led the survey during a three-month period in 2007. Results were published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. A tanning trade group said the age of the survey tainted its value.
Dr. Lynn Cornelius, chief of the Division of Dermatology at Washington University, said exposure to ultraviolet light from tanning beds makes users 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma— the deadliest form of skin cancer — than non-users.
The university decided to do the study after seeing a huge influx in young women with skin cancer, including melanoma, she said.
"Many had tanning bed histories," Cornelius said. "This isn't the same ultraviolet exposure you get from the sun. These are very intense ultraviolet exposures from these artificial devices."
The survey included 243 tanning facility operators throughout Missouri from July to September 2007. Cornelius said operators at 65 percent of the surveyed businesses said they would allow 10- or 12-year-olds to tan. Employees at 43 percent said there is no risk with indoor tanning, and workers at 80 percent said indoor tanning would prevent future sunburns, Cornelius said.
Thirty-three states have laws regulating the tanning industry, but Missouri is not among them.
American Suntanning Association executive director Tracie Cunningham questioned the survey methods and said many of the businesses interviewed in 2007 are no longer operating.
"This six-year-old telephone survey is irrelevant when evaluating consumer safety procedures practiced in professional salons," Cunningham said in a written statement. "This was data collected by phone interview six years ago — no one in this phone survey ever stepped foot in a suntanning salon, where parental consent standards and explicit consumer warning statements are already in place."
Cunningham said the association and professional tanning salons "promote responsible new measures like strong parental consent laws and include warning signs in our businesses." She said the authors of the Washington University study "have yet to engage our industry around efforts to promote parental consent and develop responsible legislative alternatives."
State Rep. Gary Cross, R-Lee's Summit, has proposed a bill that would require parental consent for anyone younger than 17 to use a tanning device at an indoor facility.
Cross said his own daughter, now 25, was a user of tanning beds in her teens. She was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma on her forehead last year and now undergoes annual skin exams because of her risk of skin cancer.
"I'm a dad," Cross said. "I'm trying to provide parents with the best possible information to make decision to guide their children."
Cornelius said there is a lag time between exposure to a carcinogen and development of cancer. That means it could be years or decades after use of tanning beds that skin cancer develops, she said.
The World Health Organization has warned that those under 18 should not use tanning beds. Experts also suggest avoiding as much direct sunlight as possible by using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and hats and long-sleeve shirts when in the sun.