Banning Indoor Tanning Devices Could Save Lives and Money

Jeff Craven

February 21, 2020

Banning indoor tanning devices outright in the United States, Canada, and Europe could prevent as many as 448,000 melanomas and 9.7 million keratinocyte carcinomas, according to a study published in JAMA Dermatology.

The study also suggests a ban would result in a collective cost savings of $5.7 billion and productivity gains of $41.3 billion.

Compared with a ban on indoor tanning for minors, the benefits of a full ban on devices were 3.7-fold higher in the United States/Canada and 2.6-fold higher in Europe, according to study author Louisa G. Gordon, PhD, of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia, and colleagues.

The researchers noted that indoor tanning is regulated in more than 20 countries. Australia has instituted a ban on commercial indoor tanning devices, and Brazil has banned both commercial and private tanning devices.

In the United States, 19 states have banned the use of indoor tanning beds for minors, and 44 states as well as the District of Columbia have some regulation of tanning facilities for minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

With this study, Dr. Gordon and colleagues sought to explore what effect an outright ban on indoor tanning devices, a prohibition for minors only, or continuing current levels of indoor tanning would have on the health and economy of the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The researchers created a Markov cohort model of 110,932,523 individuals in the United States/Canada and 141,970,492 individuals in Europe, all aged 12-35 years.

The team used data from epidemiologic studies, cost reports, and official cancer registries to estimate the prevalence of indoor tanning, risk of developing melanoma, and mortality rates from skin cancer and other causes. The researchers also estimated health care costs of melanoma treatment in each region as well as the societal cost of dying prematurely from melanoma, adjusted to 2018 dollars.


The model suggested a ban on indoor tanning in the United States and Canada would result in 244,347 fewer melanomas (–8.7%), 89,193 fewer deaths from melanoma (–6.9%), and 7.3 million fewer keratinocyte carcinomas (–7.8%) than continuing at the current levels of use. The ban would also save 428,781 life-years, have a cost savings of $3.5 billion, and confer productivity gains of $27.5 billion, the researchers said.

When applying the ban in Europe, the model estimated 203,736 fewer melanomas (­–4.9%), 98,288 fewer deaths from melanoma (–4.4%), and 2.4 million fewer keratinocyte carcinomas (­–4.4%). The researchers also noted that Europe would see a gain of 459,669 life-years, a cost savings of $2.1 billion, and a productivity gain of $13.7 billion.

Dr. Gordon and colleagues acknowledged that their model had some limitations, such as in estimating the prevalence of certain skin cancers across Europe, which can range from 10% to 56% depending on the country. In addition, the model did not account for the money spent in implementing a ban, which could include costs associated with regulation, compliance, and buy-back schemes for tanning devices.


In an interview, Dr. Gordon said the researchers conducted this study to stress the health benefits and cost savings of regulating indoor tanning devices in North America and Europe. She noted that she had previously published a report in 2009 that helped Australia make the decision to ban such devices there, but she said the tanning industry was in its infancy during that time, which factored into the decision to ban indoor tanning (Health Policy. 2009 Mar;89[3]:303-11).

Any ban by a regulatory agency "should include everyone," Dr. Gordon said, because "banning minors is a halfway attempt to prevent skin cancers." The danger isn't just present in children. "People in their 20s and 30s are still very image conscious," she said. "The pressure is enormous."

Anyone interested in tanning should use tanning creams or sprays instead of using indoor tanning devices, Dr. Gordon said. "Consumers can control their UV exposure," she noted. "Prevention is incredibly important, and skin cancer is one of a few cancers we can almost entirely prevent via protecting our skin. The same can't be said for other horrible cancers."

Adam Friedman, MD, a professor at George Washington University, Washington, who was not involved in this study, said it should come as no surprise to dermatologists that preventing artificial UVA heavy exposure reduces the incidence of skin cancer, but the "more compelling component of this study is cost."

"The lay public is extremely health care cost conscientious," he said. "This is a commonly debated topic for emerging politicians at every level; not to mention, no one enjoys bleeding money. Dermatologists can use the angle of, ‘save skin now, save money later,' to target the financial burden of accelerated skin aging and skin cancer as a mechanism for persuading patients not to ‘shake and bake.' "

While the Food and Drug Administration has proposed restricting the use of indoor tanning devices for minors nationwide, it has not issued a final rule on the matter, and the prospect of an outright ban in the United States for the general population is less feasible, noted Dr. Friedman.

"I think it would be difficult to expand this [proposed] ban given the financial impact on numerous businesses," he said. "It would likely take more evidence and support beyond the medical community to make this happen, but here's hoping."

This study was funded by the World Health Organization UV Radiation Programme and Cancer Council Victoria. One author disclosed personal fees from Cancer Council Victoria, and one disclosed grants from TrygFonden. The other authors and Dr. Friedman reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Gordon L et al. JAMA Dermatol. 2020 Feb 19. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.0001.

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