Emergency Room Visits Related to Indoor Tanning

Gery P. Guy Jr., PhD, MPH Health economist Division of Cancer Prevention and Control’s Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch CDCMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Gery P. Guy Jr., PhD, MPH
Health economist
Division of Cancer Prevention and Control’s Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch CDC

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Guy: Indoor tanning exposes users to intense UV radiation and is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. However, little is known about the more immediate adverse outcomes of indoor tanning. This study provides the first national estimates of visits to emergency departments related to indoor tanning. We examined cases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a national probability sample of hospitals in the U.S. and its territories. Patient information is collected from each NEISS hospital for every emergency visit involving an injury associated with consumer products. From this sample, the total number of product-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms nationwide can be estimated.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Guy: It’s important for people to understand both the long-term and the short-term risks of indoor tanning. Teens and young adults often downplay long-term risks like cancer. People trying to get tan for cosmetic reasons need to understand that tanned skin is also damaged skin. Clinicians can play a role in encouraging individuals to avoid indoor tanning and to embrace their natural, untanned skin color. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends behavioral counseling in clinical settings about minimizing UV exposure to reduce skin cancer risk for fair-skinned individuals aged 10-24 years. Studies show that appearance-focused messages may work best among this population, such as messages that indoor tanning can cause premature wrinkles and age spots. Patients are encouraged to avoid indoor tanning to decrease risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Guy: There were a few case reports in our data of indoor tanners falling asleep in tanning beds, leading to overexposure and severe burns. Tanning devices have timers intended to prevent this from happening. These case reports raise questions about whether the timers are being overridden, are inoperative, or if there is some other reason that indoor tanners are sometimes falling asleep and getting severely burned. More information is also needed on less severe immediate adverse outcomes from indoor tanning, for instance injuries treated in other healthcare settings. These more immediate adverse outcomes are also associated with a higher risk of long term health issues. For example, burns increase the risk of skin cancer later in life, while eye injuries from intense UV exposure may lead to cataracts and eye melanoma.


Guy GP, Jr, Watson M, Haileyesus T, Annest JL. Indoor Tanning–Related Injuries Treated in a National Sample of US Hospital Emergency Departments. JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 15, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.6697.

Last Updated on December 16, 2014 by Marie Benz MD FAAD