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Heat on Tanning Beds: Feds Mull New Rules

Evne though the Food and Drug Administration has always said indoor tanning is safe, new skin cancer research released by The World Health Organization may be changing things.

The study, concluded last summer, found indoor tanning is just as cancer-causing as the ultraviolet radiation of the sun.

With this in mind, federal health regulators are considering new rules at a hearing Thursday morning. It could result in a government crackdown on tanning beds. According to the Associated Press, the FDA will ask a panel of outside doctors to consider a range of precautionary steps, including changing how sunlamps are regulated.

Currently the machines are regulated as Class I medical devices, a rating used for low-risk products like bandages and tongue depressors. The AP reports, by increasing their classification to Class II, the FDA could require manufacturers to submit information about new tanning machines before they reach the market.

Thirty million Americans visit indoor tanning salons each year, CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano reports.

But is the danger really evident?

Quijano said many dermatologists believe the dangers of indoor tanning are clear. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the risk of melanoma is 75 percent higher among people who used tanning beds in their teens and 20s. And, according to the American Cancer Society, nearly 69,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed last year, with more than 8,600 people dying of the disease.

But Jan Meshon, owner of City Sun Tanning in New York, argues the government already has enough regulations in place.

He said, "We already are a well regulated industry that does a lot of self-policing. And responsible tanning salons like ours are a great place that a lot of people enjoy."

But on "The Early Show," CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said a safe tan isn't possible.

Special Section: Dr. Jennifer Ashton

"If you ask the dermatologists, the answer is an unequivocal 'no' (to safe tanning). We have to understand that every time our skin gets dark, it is reflecting on the cellular level damage that potentially can lead to carcinogenic changes and the resulting skin cancer."

Ashton said people need to be mindful of skin cancer because it can pop up overnight. She said people should get formal skin checks by a dermatologist yearly, and examine your own body, or have a family member or partner examine your body.

She said you or someone examining you should look for:

A change or an increase in the size or thickness of a mole or spot.
Change in color or texture of the mole. You want it to be regular and not irregular.
Irregularity in the border of a mole. That's where we talk about the asymmetry, and if it's larger than a quarter of an inch, which is about the diameter of a pencil eraser, that could also be a warning sign.

Ashton said if you notice any of these changes, go to a dermatologist immediately.

"The only way a dermatologist will know for sure is by doing is biopsy, which is a relatively painless procedure," she said. "People get lulled into a false sense of security that only fair-skinned people are at risk. Not true. African-Americans, Latinos, even though they are much lower incidence of melanoma, it can actually be more deadly and they do get it. So this really applies to everyone."

For protection, Ashton recommended applying sunscreen with a high SPF.

She said, "I recommend well over the number 30."

She added that it's important to apply the sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside.

"It needs to be absorbed into your skin. Otherwise, if you figure on while you're on the beach or while you're in the tanning bed, it's too late."

For one application of sunscreen, Ashton recommended the amount in a shot glass.

"You should be going through a bottle pretty fast," she said.

But what about the vitamin D defense? Shouldn't people get vitamin D from the sun?

Ashton said, "That excuse doesn't fly in the field of medicine. Yes, you can get vitamin D from sun, but you can also get it safely from a supplement."

Smith added, "Or from a glass of milk."

CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano also reported the cautionary story of Nicole Tamney, who received a melanoma diagnosis after years of using tanning salons. Click on the video below for her story.

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