As many Americans head to the beach this weekend, the country's dermatologists have launched a major campaign against indoor tanning.
This is actually the peak season for tanning salons, with graduations and weddings, as well as the desire to jump-start that summer bronze, prompting those who want to look sun-kissed to seek a shortcut. Every day, about one million people go to tanning salons. Most are young women ages 16 to 29. And as this new campaign emphasizes, the habit is putting them at much greater risk of skin cancer.
The American Academy of Dermatology's message to young women is direct: Tanning light is more dangerous than you think.
"What you need to know is that UV light from indoor tanning can cause premature aging … and even worse, UV light can increases your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer…" the organization's public service announcement says.
Meghan Rothschild was diagnosed with melanoma when she was only 20. She had been visiting a tanning salon 20 minutes a week for three years.
"The doctor started using words like cancer and survival rates and I was scared. I really did blame myself. I felt I had caused my melanoma," Rothschild said.
But she is not alone. Since 1987, melanoma rates among women 20 to 34 have jumped 55 percent. And dermatologists blame much of it on indoor tanning.
Dr. Darrell Rigel of the American Academy of Dermatology said, "We're seeing a dramatic increase in melanoma rates in young women. And the only behavior difference between young women and young men is the fact young women are four times more likely to go to a tanning salon."
Even one session at a tanning parlor can cause some of the same skin damage doctors see in early skin cancers, more than from natural sunlight. That's because indoor tanning is so much more intense. The rays from tanning bulbs are 10 to 15 times stronger than sunlight. It results in a faster tan and a greater risk.
But the tanning industry is denying the cancer risk. In newspaper ads, it labels the melanoma warnings as "hype."
"I haven't seen anything that can prove that there is any link between ultraviolet light exposure and malignant melanoma," said Dan Humiston of the Indoor Tanning Association.
Rigel disagreed. "The evidence linking melanoma to indoor tanning is as strong as the evidence linking lung cancer to cigarettes," he said.
Today, at 24, after surgery removed her skin cancer, and part of her abdomen, Rothschild is warning other young women about indoor tanning.
"It's very frustrating because I still don't think a lot of people understand how serious skin cancer can be," she said.
Which is why her story is part of a campaign that says "Indoor tanning is out."