A CBC News test of tanning salons across Canada shows people under 18 are being allowed to tan without their parents' consent, contrary to voluntary industry guidelines.
Teenage girls in six cities — Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Windsor and St. John's — were asked by CBC News to go to salons and ask if they could have a tanning session. They did not reveal their ages unless asked.
In 20 out of 31 cases — about 65 per cent of the time — the teenagers were allowed into the tanning room. In those cases, the girls did not use the tanning beds.
"I find it very disturbing but it doesn't surprise me. The law permits it; the law does permit that children can go in," said Dr. Ian Landells, a dermatologist in St. John's.
"The younger you are when you start using them, the higher the chance of getting melanoma. So if you use a tanning bed once between the age of 18 and 25 … you've increased your risk of melanoma [by] 41 per cent," he added, citing a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers ultraviolet radiation-emitting tanning devices as "carcinogenic to humans," adding that childhood exposure to UV radiation is known to increase the risk of developing melanoma later in life.
Landells, who teaches at Memorial University and is a former president of the Canadian Dermatology Association, is calling for a ban on the use of tanning beds by minors.
Industry group wants regulations
The Joint Canadian Tanning Association, a national industry group, promotes a policy of getting parental consent for anyone under the age of 18 who wants to use tanning beds.
Steven Gilroy, the association's executive director, said he is concerned that some tanning salons have allowed minors without parental consent, contrary to the group's own recommendations.
"This is where we want to make sure that we have professional standards," he said.
"We need the help of the government to regulate that. Just as the beauty industry was regulated in the '20s and '30s, when things were being done wrong."
Gilroy said the association has spoken to member salons over the past few days to make sure they understand that they should be asking minors for their parents' consent.
"But again, all of our members want to move this to a regulation. We don't want it as a guideline, we want to move this to a regulation, and this is why, again, we're asking for the government's help."
Young woman diagnosed with melanoma
Kate Neale, 22, of Belleville, Ont., was diagnosed with melanoma in June 2011. She recalled the phone call she received from her doctor when her biopsy results came in.
"I dropped the phone and hung up on the doctor because I was in so much shock," Neale said.
"I called my mom and I was hysterical and I said, 'You need to call the doctor's office because I can't talk to them.'"
Neale said she started using tanning beds at the age of 16, against her parents' wishes.
After graduating from high school, she worked in a tanning salon and tanned regularly for five years, she said.
Neale said she thought she knew all the facts about indoor tanning because she was trained on the topic.
"Now I see that I was brainwashed by the industry, but [at the time] I thought I was really well-trained," she said.
"There was also a sense of guilt because I was tanning's biggest advocate. I encouraged everybody — my family members, 16-year-old cousins — to tan."
Neale said she is thankful her melanoma was caught early — she is cancer-free today — but the outcome can be very different for others.
The Canadian Dermatology Association estimates that 970 Canadians will die of melanoma this year, and an estimated 5,800 new cases will be diagnosed.
Neale said telling her story publicly has been therapeutic. These days, she volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society and spends time talking to teenagers about the risks of using tanning beds.
Neale said she would like to see a ban on all indoor tanning.
N.S. bans tanning under 19
Nova Scotia has had legislation prohibiting anyone under the age of 19 from using tanning beds since May 31, 2011.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has proposed a similar law this week.
Also this week, the Quebec government passed a law banning the use of tanning beds by those under the age of 18.
Similar legislation has been proposed in British Columbia and Ontario, with the latter being proposed through a private member's bill.
But other provinces, including Manitoba, are opting to allow teenagers to use tanning beds with parental consent.
Manitoba's new regulations requiring parental consent for minors take effect on June 15.
Victoria and surrounding B.C. communities brought in a municipal ban on tanning bed use by minors in January 2011.
Tanning devices are subject to federal radiation-emitting devices regulations.
Health Canada also has voluntary guidelines for tanning salon operators that recommend they assess factors such as a client's ability to tan, the client's history of sunburns, and the use of any medication that could react with UV radiation.
Those guidelines note that children under 16 years of age should not use tanning equipment.
"These are known carcinogens, freely available for the public to go in [and] expose themselves," Landells said of tanning beds.
"It's very important that they know these risks, that they are exposing themselves to radiation that causes skin cancer."