11/05/2014 04:57 pm ET

Millions Of Students Have Access To Tanning Beds On Campus, Study Finds

More than a half million students at some of the country's best colleges and universities have access to tanning beds on their campus, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School published in JAMA Dermatology.

Among U.S. News and World Report's 125 top colleges, the researchers found, nearly half had indoor tanning on campus or in nearby off-campus housing. For the ones with tanning beds in off-campus student housing, most offered them free of charge to residents, while many on campus allowed students to pay with campus cash options.

The half million figure represented about 12 percent of the schools surveyed, and was most predominate in the Midwest.

"We encourage universities to adopt a 'tan free campus' policy by prohibiting tanning beds and booths from campuses and discouraging housing facilities from having beds," lead author Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor of medicine, said in a news release. "Universities should instead court new students with enticing health facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and healthy dining options."

Not only does indoor tanning cause premature signs of aging and can potentially cause blindness, it significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.

Roughly one-third of college-aged students indoor tan, according to a 2010 survey. Previous research indicates tanning can become addictive, as well.

"Tobacco and alcohol are not allowable purchases on many campuses," Pagoto told NPR. "We would encourage colleges to take that one step further and add tanning to that list."