More than three-quarters of all skin cancer-related deaths are from melanoma, according to Dr. Allen Halpern, vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation and director of the dermatology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. And about one person dies of melanoma every hour in the United States, he said.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a group affiliated with the World Health Organization, recently added tanning beds to its "Group One" list, which identifies the most harmful forms of radiation.
The recent evidence pointing to the dangers of tanning, along with pressure from Congress, prompted the FDA to convene and discuss reclassification.
While there are many products besides tanning beds that tout glowing results, many are not as safe an alternative as they seem, according to Halpern.
For many Americans who live in warm climates year-round, the cheapest alternative may be to skip the salon and hit the beach. Although exposure to sunlight generates vitamin D, even a short stint in the sun can pose a health risk, according to Halpern.
"Going out in the sun won't give you calcium, so unless you take [supplements if you're deficient], regardless, you're still not getting the potential benefit of Vitamin D," he said. "And so, for my mind, the answer is protecting yourself as much as possible from ultra-violet exposure; we don't want people to give up their outdoor activities, we want them to be healthy."
Sunless tanning, otherwise known as spray-on tans, seems to be the safest alternative to tanning. Although Halpern said some of his patients ask if it is safe, he is not quick to recommend it, because it "promotes the overall social aesthetic of a tan."
"I [would like] people not to desire the spray-on tan, but if they're going to get a tan that is the only way I would have them do it," he said.