FDA proposes tighter regulations on tanning beds


The FDA announced Monday it wants all tanning beds to carry language warning people under the age of 18 about the risks of indoor tanning. The agency would also require manufacturers to submit their beds for federal review before marketing them. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Citing growing evidence of the health risks associated with sunlamps and tanning beds, the Food and Drug Administration on Monday said it would seek tighter regulations and more-detailed labeling of the devices, in part to discourage their use by people under 18.

The agency proposed reclassifying tanning beds from a low-risk to a moderate-risk device, a new designation that would allow the FDA to review the products before they are sold. Manufacturers would be required to meet performance and safety standards and to clearly spell out the risks of using them. The FDA wants the labels to include a recommendation that people under 18 steer clear of the devices.

“Using indoor tanning beds can damage your skin and increase your risk of developing skin cancer,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement Monday. “The FDA’s proposed changes will help address some of the risks associated with sunlamp products and provide consumers with clear and consistent information.”

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, said her group strongly supports the increased regulation of tanning beds, but described the FDA proposal as “very weak.” She noted, for example, that it would not require clinical testing, “which would entail making sure that consumers are not burned if the tanning bed is used as directed.” And she complained that while the agency is recommending that children under 18 not use tanning beds, there is no enforcement mechanism to stop them.

Manufacturers expressed dismay about the proposal. “We embrace any changes that will enhance our customers’ safety,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. “However, we are concerned that these changes will burden our members with additional unnecessary governmental costs in an already difficult economic climate.”

The FDA isn’t the first government entity to crack down on indoor tanning. Dozens of states already regulate tanning beds to varying degrees. California and Vermont, for example, have outlawed their use by minors. Wisconsin bars it for those under 16; states such as North Dakota, Delaware and New Hampshire prohibit it for children under 14, unless medically necessary. Various other states, including Virginia, require parental permission for children of certain ages.

New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently signed legislation to prohibit children under 17 from using commercial tanning beds, citing “the documented and well-understood risks associated with misuse of indoor tanning systems.”

Groups such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the World Health Organization have opposed indoor tanning, citing studies that have linked it to an increased risk of skin cancer. People who begin tanning younger than age 35 experience a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma, according to research highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also said using tanning beds also increases the chances of eye damage.

The FDA said Monday it would accept public comment on its proposal for 90 days.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on food and drug issues.
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