For many of us, a suntan conveys an instant illusion of glowing health.  Indeed, a certain amount of exposure to sunlight is both necessary and healthful.  However, overexposure may cause immediate long-term damage due to the ultraviolet (UV) light the sun emits.  UV ray exposure is suspected to increase one’s chances of skin cancer, including the deadly malignant melanoma, as well as damage to the eyes and to the immune system. 

Ads that claim indoor tanning devices are a safe alternative to outdoor tanning may be untrue, as these also emit UV rays.  In addition to federal statutes, provisions of state law (O.C.G.A. Sections 31-38-1 through 31-38-12) regulate tanning facilities.  Within three feet of each tanning booth, a clearly visible sign must advise you of the implications of tanning.  The sign should include the following warnings and instructions:

  • Follow instructions.
  • Avoid overexposure. As with natural sunlight, overexposure can cause eye and skin injury and allergic reactions. Repeated exposure may cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
  • Wear protective eyewear.
  • Medications or cosmetics may increase your sensitivity to the ultraviolet radiation. Consult a physician before using sunlamp or tanning equipment if you are using medications or have a history of skin problems or believe yourself to be especially sensitive to sunlight.
  • If you do not tan in the sun, you are unlikely to tan from the use of this product.
  • According to the research and clinical experience of the American Academy of Dermatology, excessive or improper exposure to ultraviolet light can cause harmful changes in the skin and other organs, including skin cancer, cataracts, impairment of the immune system, premature aging, and photosensitivity. These are virtually the same risks associated with outdoor tanning.

Tanning facilities must comply with a number of other guidelines to ensure your safety:

  1. You must wear goggles.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires tanning salons to direct all customers to wear protective eye goggles.  Closing your eyes, wearing ordinary sunglasses or using cotton wads does not protect the cornea of the eye from the intensity of UV radiation from tanning devices.  UV rays do not kill bacteria and germs, so the protective goggles must be sanitized before use.   
  2. Tanning equipment must include physical barriers to prevent injury from touching or breaking the lamps.  Stand-up tanning booths must have different barriers for your protection.
  3. Tanning equipment must have ground fault protection on the electrical circuit to prevent a fire from starting. 
  4. The tanning facility owner or operator must compile a written report of any actual or alleged injuries from use of tanning equipment within five working days after occurrence or notice thereof. The report must be maintained for at least three years. A copy of any report must be supplied to you upon your request.
  5. Children under 14 years of age are not permitted to use tanning equipment.
  6. If you are at least 14 years of age but less than 18 years old you may not use tanning equipment unless your parent or legal guardian signs a consent form.
  7. Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 31-38-4.1) requires any person establishing, maintaining or operating a tanning facility in Georgia to first register with the Department of Public Health.

Complaints About Tanning Facilities

If you believe that you have been the victim of false or deceptive advertising by a tanning facility or the promoter of a sun protection product in Georgia, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be interested in your experience.  The agency monitors advertising claims made by tanning facilities and sun protection product manufacturers.  The FTC does not generally resolve individual cases but will accept complaints to be used in the event of a larger investigation.  Any such complaints received by the Georgia Department of Law's Consumer Protection Division would also be referred directly to the FTC.

There are many lotions and sprays on the market that will give you a temporary tan.  Most self-tanners of this type are approved by the FDA.  However, you should verify that any oral medications or herbs promoted to help you tan are actually FDA-approved.  If you find they are not approved when they claim to be, you can file a complaint with the FDA.