Those of you tanning or burning your skin this summer should stop — seek the shade, wear a hat and some sunscreen and, whatever you do, stay out of indoor tanning salons. It's a familiar skin-cancer prevention message, but it's coming from a new source: the office of the U.S. Surgeon General.
The call to action from acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, released Tuesday, says that skin cancer is a "major public health problem" and that too much exposure to indoor and outdoor ultraviolet light is a major cause. It comes just two months after the Food and Drug Administration announced it will soon require labels on tanning beds and lamps warning against use by anyone younger than 18.
But more action is needed, because skin cancers in the United States, unlike many other cancers, continue to rise, the new report says. Nearly 5 million people in the United States are treated for skin cancer each year, at a cost of $8.1 billion, the report says. About 63,000 cases are the most serious kind, melanoma, and about 6,000 of those cases are directly linked to indoor tanning, the report says.
The report says ultraviolet radiation exposure from indoor tanning is "completely avoidable."
In an interview, Lushniak, who is a dermatologist, said it is time for additional states to join the several that have banned indoor tanning by minors and the 44 with some kind of restrictions.
TIPS: Preventing skin cancer
The report also calls for individuals — of all skin colors — to follow the usual advice for minimizing sun exposure, including using sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and shade. It also says everyone from schools to businesses to urban planners have roles to play in providing shady spaces and making it easier for people to protect themselves.
The report does not say we should all live in caves. "Enjoy the great outdoors," Lushniak says, "but take steps to protect your skin."
There's some evidence some people are listening to some of the warnings: Indoor tanning use by teens dropped in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says 12.8% of teens younger than 18 admitted to indoor tanning in 2013, down from 15.6% in 2009.
The World Health Organization called indoor tanning devices cancer-causing in 2009.
The report "is a major step forward in the fight against the epidemic of skin cancer, but the value of this step will be measured in the follow-up," says Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation. The foundation was among several health groups, including the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society, praising the report.
An industry group, the Indoor Tanning Association, said in a statement that tanning critics "always exaggerate the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light in order to get the attention of the public, the media and the government." The group says ultraviolet radiation from a sunbed is no worse than that from the sun and that both are healthful in moderation, as long as skin doesn't get burned – ideas Lushniak disputed in a press conference to release the report.
"Tanned skin is damaged skin," he said.
The industry group also has said that use by teens should be up to parents, not government.