What is the most common injury associated with tanning beds? It is not burns to the skin.

In 1989, 1,660 tanning-bed injuries were reported by emergency rooms participating in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Eye injuries were the most common problem reported.

Exposure to the ultraviolet rays in a tanning bed can cause severe corneal burns if the eyes are not protected by goggles. Simply closing the eyelids or placing cotton balls on them is not enough, because ultraviolet radiation can pass through. Burns to the cornea may not appear for several hours after a tanning session.

In addition to corneal burns, failure to wear goggles can cause retinal damage in young children and people who have lens implants. Repeated exposure to ultraviolet rays can eventually lead to cataracts.

The danger of ultraviolet ray exposure to the eyes is well known in the tanning bed industry. Unfortunately, some tanning salons discourage users from wearing goggles so they can avoid an untanned “panda” or “raccoon” effect around the eyes. In one survey, more than a third of the salon operators suggested that goggles were unnecessary. In another survey, none of the 16 tanning facilities visited required patrons to wear goggles. Many of the goggles that were provided as an option were not secure and fell off when the customer turned over.

Tanning equipment is responsible for a growing percentage of the corneal burns reported. A Michigan study found that 40% of emergency room patients with corneal burns caused by ultraviolet rays had been exposed at commercial tanning facilities. The number of reported corneal burns increased as the number of tanning facilities increased.

The Texas Tanning Facility Regulation Act was passed in 1990. It requires all tanning facilities to warn customers of the risk of eye injury and to provide protective eye wear. Complying with the Act, however, does not relieve salon operators of liability. Salon operators who fail to use reasonable care to ensure that protective eye wear is worn, know or should know that injuries are inevitable.

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