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Teens & Tanning: Safety Information for Parents

Tanning Salons

The use of tanning salons is a common practice among teenagers, especially females. In a national survey, 24% of non-Hispanic white teenagers 13 to 19 years of age used a tanning salon at least once.

The UVR radiation produced by some tanning units can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun. The tan that occurs represents a protective response to the harmful rays of the sun. Skin damage occurs whether a tan comes from the sun itself or from artificial light from a tanning salon.

Risk of Skin Cancer

Tanning in the tanning salon raises the risk of developing skin cancer. Rates of skin cancer - including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer - continue to rise, even in young people.

Where We Stand

Tanning salons are not safe and should not be used by teenagers or others. Along with the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports legislation prohibiting access to tanning salons or use of artificial tanning devices by children under the age of 18.

Spray Tans

“Spray tans,” also known as “sunless” or “self-tanning” products, are sometimes used by people to substitute for going outside or visiting a tanning salon.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

Sunless tanners use dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical that reacts with amino acids in the stratum corneum (the top layer of skin) to form brown-black compounds, melanoidins, which deposit in skin. DHA is a mutagen that induces DNA strand breaks in certain strains of bacteria; it has not been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies. DHA is the only color additive approved by the US FDA for use as a tanning agent.

How It Works?

DHA-containing tanning preparations may be applied to the consumer’s bare skin by misters at sunless tanning booths. Bronzers are water-soluble dyes that temporarily stain the skin. Bronzers are easily removed with soap and water.

DHA-induced tans become apparent within 1 hour; maximal darkening occurs within 8 to 24 hours. Most users report that color disappears over 5 to 7 days.

Sun Protection Warning

Because neither DHA nor melanoidins afford any significant UVR protection, consumers must be advised that sunburn and sun damage may occur unless they use sunscreen and other sun protection methods.

Consumers must also be warned that any sunless products containing added sunscreen provide UVR protection during a few hours after application and that additional sun protection must be used during the duration of the artificial tan.

Love the Skin You’re In

Potential spray tan users may also be advised that it is probably healthier to “love the skin you’re in” rather than seeking a darker look.

Additional Resources:

Last Updated
Adapted from Pediatric Environmental Health, 3rd Edition (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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