Indoor tanning—a practice that remains surprisingly popular, especially among teens and young adults—is finally facing tougher scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers. In December, dermatologists cheered a provision in the Senate Healthcare reform bill that would impose an excise tax on tanning in place of a previously proposed tax on cosmetic services. Last month, the FTC settled a suit with the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) regarding false and misleading claims about tanning made by the association. Though the ITA emphasizes that it has not admitted that it made misrepresentations or violated any law, the group has agreed to comply with new guidelines that restrict claims it can make about UV lamp tanning (see Sidebar at right).

Taxes and Restrictions
Although the future of Healthcare reform legislation is as uncertain as ever, the year-end developments that saw the emergence of a proposed tanning tax are still viewed by dermatologists as important developments. On the one hand, abandonment of the cosmetic tax was seen as an affirmation of aesthetic medicine; on the other hand, the tanning tax indicated that legislators have recognized the dangers of tanning and seek to curb its popularity.

In an interview in December, dermatologist Susan H. Weinkle, MD noted that, “More than 90 percent of individuals treated for aesthetic rejuvenation are women between the ages of 35 and 65,” but said the measure appeared to have been constructed based on the notion that cosmetic procedures are only sought by the wealthy. “This tax would frame cosmetic surgery as a frivolous luxury, when in fact the people who undergo it are often working women trying to enhance themselves,” Dr. Weinkle said.

Abandonment of the cosmetic tax was thought to result from a “well-orchestrated outcry from a number of vantage points,” observed Dr. Weinkle. “There is no question that increased UV exposure leads to skin cancer, which is why a tax on tanning is far more appropriate than a tax on cosmetic services,” she said.

Joel Schlessinger, MD noted that the concept of taxing indoor tanning is encouraging to physicians. “The false advertising that comes from the tanning industry is unparalleled,” he noted in an interview late last year. He said that the efforts by the American Academy of Dermatology Association and other groups to address the dangers of UV exposure and try to increase awareness in Congress, “appeared to have been falling on deaf ears.” The recent legislative action suggests that is not the case.

The recent FTC action is further encouragement for dermatologists, and the AAD hailed the recent settlement. The medical society brought its concerns about false claims by the ITA to the FTC in 2008. In a statement, David M. Pariser, MD, President of the AAD, noted that this, “action comes at a particularly opportune time because many individuals may be using indoor tanning facilities during the winter months under the false impression that this is a safe way to generate their bodies' production of vitamin D as has been claimed by the industry in its advertising. The Academy hopes that this action will persuade individuals to rethink this choice and stop using or avoid indoor tanning altogether.”

The new regulations may make a difference: Some industry watchers1 now warn salon owners and employees to be careful what they tell customers and potential customers about the merits of tanning in order to to avoid misrepresenting their trade to undercover regulators or news reporters.

  1. Accessed at ww.lookingfit.com/blogs/judie/blogdefault.aspx?m=art&a=ita-ftc-settlement- implications.html