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As summer approaches, tanning bed use heats up, but so do side effects

Do you know what you're getting into?

A trip to the tanning salon provides 10 minutes of heat, a mood boost and a "golden glow."

Every day in the U.S., more than 1 million people use tanning beds, and the tanning industry's 2010 revenue is estimated at $2.6 billion, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

With prom and bikini seasons right around the corner, tanning salons start rolling out specials and women are lining up for the bronzing benefits.

But at what cost?

"We think of our tanned tomorrow and not our melanoma in 20 years," says Dr. Rachel Ness, a dermatologist with Dermatology Associates in Fargo.

Starting young

Eight percent of the nearly 28 million Americans who tan indoors each year are teenagers, the AAD says.

Tanning in your teens can be especially harmful because most skin damage occurs before age 18, says Dr. Susan Mathison, a physician and founder of Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo.

"Your cells are more vulnerable when you're younger," she says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those who begin tanning before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer.

State laws place restrictions on young tanners.

In North Dakota, kids under 14 can tan with a parent present or a doctor's note. If they're between the ages of 14 and 18, they need a parental consent form to be signed at the tanning facility. Minnesota law allows youths under 16 to use tanning beds with a parent's signature.

Both states require tanning facilities to post warning signs and provide FDA-approved protective eyewear.

Though fair-skinned celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams and Taylor Swift show pale can be pretty, many teens and young women still think "bronzed is beautiful."

Society has "made us believe that a bronzed body is a healthy, vital body," says Dr. Ness.

Drs. Ness and Mathison say the endorphin release tanning provides can make tanning addictive. "It might not be as simple as telling them to stop," Dr. Ness says.

She says overuse of tanning beds can develop into body dysmorphia, or "imagined ugliness," thinking they can never be dark enough.

In a recent article, CBS News says a new congressional report accuses tanning salons of lying to their customers. "It is in the tanning industry's best interest to try to convince the consumer that they are helping them," Dr. Ness says.

Some users say it helps with their psoriasis, acne or seasonal affective disorder.

A North Dakota state law enacted in 2008 prohibits tanning facilities from stating any health benefits of UV radiation "other than those recognized by a credible scientific or medical source."

On their websites, two Fargo businesses tout the benefits or positive effects of tanning-bed use. Messages left with a number of local salons weren't returned, or the manager or owner declined comment for this story.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization's International Agency of Research on Cancer panel have labeled UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources as a "known carcinogen," or cancer-causing agent.

"Almost everyone who frequents a tanning salon or exposes themselves to the sun is putting themselves at risk for skin cancer," the National Cancer Institute says.

Dr. Ness says she sees patients every day with skin cancers related to inappropriate UV exposure.

Both Drs. Ness and Mathison say no one thinks they'll develop skin cancer until it happens to them. "I see that girl in my office once a month who never thought it was going to be her," Dr. Ness says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590