Dermatologists, survivors urge lawmakers to ban minors from tanning beds

Critics: Ban would send teens outside to tan

INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana dermatologists and cancer survivors are among those who are encouraging lawmakers to ban minors from using tanning beds. 

Currently, minors in Indiana must have a parent sign a release form before they can use a tanning bed at a salon. If the child is 15 years old or younger, a parent must also be present when the child tans. 

Katie Donnar was 17 when she was diagnosed with melanoma. Donnar had used tanning beds and had to ask the question most teens should never have to consider.

“My dad sat me down and said, ‘Katie, you have melanoma,”’ Donnar said. "I just said am I going to die?"

Donnar, 22,  is now a melanoma survivor, and along with dermatologists, spoke before the Indiana Health Finance Commission in support of a proposed law that would ban minors from using tanning beds.         

"Just like we keep minors away from tobacco, another cancer causing agent," said Dr. Lawrence Mark, assistant professor of dermatology at Indiana University School of Medicine.

"I think it's an overreaction to a legitimate concern," countered Joseph Levy, who works with the American Suntanning Association. "That concern is how do we teach people of all ages proper sun care, and instead, we're trying a ban on under 18 would be teaching people under 18 that UV exposure is harmful and that's not what the science says."

Mark said the only way for a person to get a tan is if he or she causes cellular damage.

“There really is no difference between tanning in a tanning bed versus tanning in the sun, except the tanning bed actually has a high rate of UV exposure," Mark said.

However, Levy said it is overexposure and burning that people need to avoid, and tanning beds are not to blame for that.

"A tanning bed is designed in the United States with the most conservative system in the world to deliver 3/4 or less of what would induce a sunburn,” Levy said.

Levy said a ban would drive teens to tan outdoors and that would increase their risk of burning.

Donnar said she just wants to put a face to the danger of skin cancer so other teens don’t have to.

"I was a teenager who thought I had to tan. I thought I had to look a certain way, and because I did that, it damaged my body," Donnar said.

Mark pointed out that there are more tanning bed salons in Indiana than there are McDonald’s in the state.

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