A secret-shopper study by House Democratic staffers found that tanning-salon employees routinely lied about the risks of indoor tanning, and frequently provided misleading information suggesting that tanning had health benefits.
The report, commissioned by the Energy and Commerce Committee minority staff, involved interviews with 300 salons around the country. Staffers posed as 16-year-old, fair-skinned girls, and asked salons whether tanning was safe, whether it caused cancer specifically, and how often they should visit, among other questions.
According to the report, the salons routinely gave inaccurate information. Ninety percent said tanning had no health risks, and 51 percent denied a connection between indoor tanning and skin cancer. Seventy-eight in the survey made health claims, saying tanning was a good source of Vitamin D, and worked as a treatment for osteoporosis, depression, weight loss, insomnia, lupus, and other health problems. Many of the salons also offered special discounts and promotions for new teen customers.
“We know that indoor tanning significantly increases skin cancer risks -- especially for teens,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the ranking member of the committee, in a statement. “Our report finds that the vast majority of tanning salons deny the known risks of indoor tanning and falsely claim that it is beneficial to a young person’s health. Tanning salons should not be putting young women’s health at risk by providing them with false and misleading information.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., expressed outrage that tanning salons were marketing to teenagers. “Tanning beds are brightly lit, cancer-causing coffins -- plain and simple,” she said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Indoor Tanning Association, a trade group, questioned the conclusions of the report. "Some of the statements attributed to salon employees in the report are indeed inconsistent with tanning-industry standards," said John Overstreet, in a statement. "The majority of professional salons across the nation implement professionally developed training programs for all staff members."
The 2010 health care law imposed a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning, in an effort to deter its use. But a recent study in the Archives of Dermatology found that tanning has been just as popular as ever since the tax went into effect.
An FDA panel is considering placing additional restrictions on tanning salons because of the health risks posed by the technology.