Exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as from the sun or tanning beds, can cause serious health risks. Millions of people mistakenly believe that tanning beds are safer than the sun. They are not. Tanning beds are more dangerous than exposure to the sun.
What is a tan?
Your skin tans as a self-defence mechanism when exposed to any kind of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This exposure increases the production of the pigment melanin, which leads to the darkening of the skin. Darkening of the skin is not healthy. Tanning means that you have damaged your skin. There is no such thing as a healthy tan.
How does UV radiation cause damage?
Three types of ultraviolet radiation from the sun reach the Earth: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
- Penetrates the ozone most.
- Causes damage to the deep layers of the skin.
- Leads o skin cancers and premature aging of the skin.
- Affects the top layers of the skin.
- Causes sunburns.
- Also leads to skin cancers.
- Penetrates the ozone least.
- Harmless to the skin.
What damage does UV radiation cause?
UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds causes many health problems:
Skin cancers – Skin cancers are on the rise, with one in five Americans developing skin cancers in their lifetime. UV radiation is the cause of most of these skin cancers. It penetrates the skin and changes your DNA causing the formation of skin cancers. Because the UV radiation you get from tanning beds is more concentrated and is mostly UVA, tanning beds cause more damage than the sun.
Premature aging – UVA rays that penetrate deeply into the dermal layer of the skin cause premature aging. The dermis contains collagen and elastin. Damage to these proteins leads to wrinkles and sagging skin, making your skin look like leather. UVA and UVB cause brown spots and discoloration of your skin.
Suppression of your immune system – UVB rays suppress the proper function of your immune system, leaving you defenceless against foreign pathogens and allergens. This also facilitates the development of skin cancers.
Damage to your eyes – UV radiation can cause macular degeneration, which leads to permanent vision loss. It can also cause cataracts, cancer, and corneal damage.
Allergic reactions – Some people are sensitive to UV radiation and develop an allergic rash.
What types of skin cancer do tanning beds cause?
Tanning beds can cause three different types of skin cancers:
- Basal cell carcinoma – Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It is caused by cumulative UV damage from the sun or tanning beds. While it rarely kills people, it can cause significant morbidity and disfigurement.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. It is also caused by cumulative UV damage from the sun or tanning beds. About 20% of people can die from it.
- Melanoma – This is the most deadly form of skin cancer. If caught early, it has a 99% survival rate. Unfortunately, cases are on the rise, especially in young people. It is the second most common cancer in women 20 to 29 years old. If you start using tanning beds before age 30, you are six times more likely to get melanoma.
Why are tanning beds worse than the sun?
Tanning beds are a proven carcinogen, meaning they are proven to cause cancer.
It is a myth that tanning beds are safer than the sun. Tanning beds contain mostly UVA rays, so you are less likely to get a sunburn, but that does not mean they are safer.
You are getting pure UVA rays that penetrate deeper and are more harmful. The UVA from tanning beds is three times more intense than the UVA from the sun. Five minutes in a tanning bed causes the same damage as one hour outside in the sun.
This means that tanning bed use increases premature aging. You will get wrinkles and sagging skin faster and earlier in life with tanning bed use than you would when you are exposed to the sun.
Just one tanning bed session increases your risk of melanoma by 20%, SCC by 67%, and BCC by 29%. If you start using tanning beds before 35, this increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75% after just one session.
Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer, and it is on the rise, especially among tanning bed users. One person dies every hour from melanoma in the US. One study showed that 97% of women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30 had used tanning beds.
Can I get vitamin D from tanning beds?
Since you need UVB light to make vitamin D and tanning beds are mostly UVA, tanning beds will not help you. It is better to get vitamin D through your diet or supplements. Even the UVB you get from the sun will help. There is absolutely no benefit to tanning bed use in this regard.
Will using tanning beds give me a base tan that protects my skin?
Having a base tan will not protect you from the sun. That is a myth. Tanning is not healthy. It simply indicates that you have sun damage. The UV radiation that leads to tanning damages your DNA immediately. Cumulative damage leads to skin cancers, not just sunburns.
Are self-tanners safe?
If you must have tanned skin, self-tanning lotions or spray tans are safer alternatives. Allergic reactions to these chemicals are rare. They can help hide stretch marks or spider veins and can give your skin a glow. Just remember, self-tanners are not sunscreen and will not protect you from the sun.
No tanning is healthy or safe.
UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds causes skin cancers and premature aging.
The UV radiation from tanning beds is much more deadly than the sun.
Self-tanning lotions or spray tans are a safer alternative to tanning.
Bolognia, J., Jorizzo J.L., Schaffer, J.V. (2012). Dermatology. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders.
American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org. Indoor tanning.
Skin Cancer Foundation. Skincancer.org. Indoor tanning.
Federal Drug Administration. FDA.gov. Indoor tanning.