Tanning Accidents on Increase, Doctors Say

Dermatologists say they are seeing an increase in potentially serious tanning salon accidents, including eye damage and, in individuals who are taking medications that increase the skin’s sensitivity, severe sunburn.

An Indiana woman who died in 1989 after suffering third-degree burns at a tanning salon had been taking soralen, a medication for the skin disease psoriasis, which increased her sensitivity to light.

Julie, an Orange County woman, also found out how easily mishaps can happen.

At age 18, she went to a Huntington Beach tanning salon. Julie recalls that when she first went there, she signed a form that listed hazards and provided safety instructions. The form, mandated by California law, states that people on medications should consult a physician before using a tanning salon. Julie wasn’t taking medication at the time and signed the form.


But when she returned a few weeks later, she was taking the antibiotic tetracycline for an infection. Tetracycline is known to increase an individual’s sensitivity to sunlight.

She was not required to sign the form because she was a repeat customer, and she says she didn’t recall having read about medications during her first visit.

Julie spent the allowed 20 minutes in the tanning bed. But the next day, she awoke with a severe burn and with blistering on her upper body.

“I had been there before one other time and didn’t have any problems. So I couldn’t figure out what happened,” Julie says. “Then I realized it was the tetracycline.”


Doctors also report a disturbing trend in eye damage from tanning. Because the eyelids’ thin skin allows ultraviolet light to penetrate the eye, patrons are advised to wear protective goggles while under the lamps. But some don’t wear the goggles because when the skin tans around the goggles, it produces a raccoon effect that they dislike.

One study taken in a hospital emergency room found that of 62 patients treated for corneal burns in one year, 25 were exposed at commercial tanning salons.

One doctor reports seeing four or five patients who probably contracted herpes simplex, a contagious viral skin rash producing painful blisters, from using tanning salon beds that had not been properly sterilized between customers.