The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) share responsibilities in the regulation of sunlamps and tanning devices. In addition, Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 325H, establishes state standards for tanning equipment. The FDA enforces regulations that deal with labels on the devices; the FTC investigates false, misleading, and deceptive advertising claims about the devices. When these agencies determine that device labels don’t comply with the regulations or that advertisements are not truthful, they may take corrective action. The FDA also can remove products from the marketplace. In Minnesota, the county health departments are responsible for enforcing tanning regulations.
Tanning indoors damages your skin. That’s because indoor tanning devices emit ultraviolet rays. Tanning occurs when the skin produces additional pigment (coloring) to protect itself against burn from ultraviolet rays. Overexposure to these rays can cause eye injury, premature wrinkling of the skin, and light induced skin rashes, and can increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
- Limit your exposure to avoid sunburn. If you tan with a device, ask whether the manufacturer or the salon staff recommend exposure limits for your skin type. Set a timer on the tanning device that automatically shuts off the lights or somehow signals that you have reached your exposure time. Remember that exposure time affects burning and that your age at the time of exposure is important relative to burning. Studies suggest that children and adolescents are harmed more by equivalent amounts of UVB rays than adults. The earlier you start tanning, the earlier skin injury may occur.
- Use goggles to protect your eyes. Ask whether safety goggles are provided and if their use is mandatory. Make sure the goggles fit snugly. Check to see that the salon sterilizes the goggles after each use to prevent the spread of eye infections.
- Consider your medical history. If you are undergoing treatment for lupus or diabetes or are susceptible to cold sores, be aware that these conditions can be aggravated through exposure to ultraviolet radiation from tanning devices, sunlamps, or natural sunlight. In addition, your skin may be more sensitive to artificial light or sunlight if you use certain medications such as antihistamines, tranquilizers or birth control pills. Your tanning salon may keep a file with information on your medical history, medications, and treatments. Make sure you update it as necessary.
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Chances are you spend some time in natural sunlight. You still could benefit from using sunscreens with sun protection factor (SPF) numbers of 15 or more. The SPF number gives you some idea of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you normally burn in ten minutes without sunscreen, you should be protected from burn for 150 minutes using SPF 15. Swimming and perspiration reduce the actual SPF value for many sunscreens, so be sure to reapply even if the product is water-resistant.
While all sunscreens provide some level of protection against UVB rays, no product screens out all UVA rays. Some may advertise UVA protection, but there’s no system yet for rating UVA protection. Even when you use a sunscreen with a high SPF number, there’s no way to know how much UVA protection you’re getting.
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