We Are Sunshine

Sun Tanning and Teenagers: Myth and Reality

Friday, February 8th, 2008

The indoor tanning community’s position on teenage tanning — that teenagers should be allowed to tan in professional salons with the consent of their parents — is scientifically supported, according to the International Smart Tan Network.

Smart Tan White Paper on this topic summarizes the research and explains that: studies have shown that teens who tan in salons are less likely to sunburn outdoors compared to non-tanners.



  • 83 percent of teenagers who tan indoors prior to taking sunny vacations report that their indoor tan, combined with the proper use of sunscreen outdoors, helped them to prevent sunburn.
  • 72 percent of teenagers who currently tan indoors say they would simply tan more aggressively outdoors or purchase home tanning units – both of which are more likely to produce sunburns – if they were not able to tan indoors.
  • This critical distinction is conspicuously ignored by anti-sun groups: There is no data to suggest that tanning is more dangerous for any specific age group. Photobiology suggests that burning (not tanning) at an early age could increase risk later in life. As we just discussed, indoor tanners sunburn less than non-tanners, including teenagers who tan outdoors.
  • Indoor tanning facilities today are at the forefront in teaching teenagers outdoor sunburn prevention, including the proper use of sunscreens to prevent sunburn outdoors. It is the tanning community’s contention that we teach proper sunscreen usage more effectively than anti-sun groups who preach over-use of sunscreen product — encouraging 365-day usage of sunscreen in climates and seasons where sunburn is not a possibility.
  • Skin cancer statistics do not support the theory that teen-agers are at a greater risk today. Mortality from melanoma skin cancer among women aged 15-20 has decreased more than 50 percent since 1980, according to National Cancer Institute data. Several papers have been written about the fact that it is statistically impossible for incidence of a disease to rise dramatically and for mortality to decline.
  • Indoor tanning in a non-burning fashion has never been connected to melanoma by any study. Consider: 18 of 22 studies on this topic show no connection and the four that do suggest connections in some sub-groups all have obvious confounding factors that aren’t accounted for. Additionally, one of the four is by an author who recently completed a larger study — the largest conducted to date — that shows no connection.
  • The concern about melanoma has not been presented correctly. The photobiology science is clear on this: Sunlight’s connection with melanoma is complex: Indoor workers are at greater risk than outdoor workers, and melanoma occurs most commonly on parts of the body that do not receive regular sun exposure. These facts both prove that UV does not have a straight-forward relationship with melanoma.

Smart Tan members seeking more information on this topic should look into Smart Tan’s TanningTruth Certification — the course that teaches salon employees to become proper ambassadors of smart tanning. Call your Smart Tan member services representative at 800-652-3269, or 866-795-3755 in Canada.