Summer is about to begin and you may be tempted to get an early start on your tan. Here is “need to know” information about tanning salons that could help you avoid serious health risks down the road.
According to Spencer (1998) the ultraviolet radiation from the artificial light in tanning beds is linked to skin cancers and other types of skin damage. Indoor tanning beds are associated with a 50% increase in the risk of basal cell carcinoma (i. e., skin cancer). In fact, 90% of melanomas are estimated to be caused by ultraviolet (UV) exposure (1). “Tanning beds use fluorescent bulbs that emit mostly UVA. The UVA radiation is up to three times more intense than the UVA in natural sunlight”. (2)
The tanning bed industry often makes inaccurate claims about the benefits of artificial tanning. For example, the industry claims that indoor tanning promotes the production of vitamin D which is important for bone health and has been linked to reduced risk for cancer. The industry also claims that indoor tanning helps protect against sun burn. In reality, an indoor tan provides “the equivalent of a sunscreen rated SPF 4 or less”. (2) And you can obtain all the vitamin D that your body needs through a healthy diet.
Given the science behind the dangers of indoor tanning, you might be wondering why people still do it? Harrington and colleagues (2011) found that the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from tanning beds stimulates areas of the brain associated with reward and, therefore, encourages excessive tanning. (3)
- Spencer, J. “Tanning beds and skin cancer: artificial sun old sol = real risk.” Clinics in Dermatology4 (1998): 487-501. Web.
- Harvard Women’s Health Watch – By the way, doctor: Is a tanning bed safer than sunlight?
- Harrington, C. R., Beswick, T. C., Graves, M., Jacobe, H. T., Harris, T. S., Kourosh, S., Devous Sr, M. D. and Adinoff, B. (2012), Activation of the mesostriatal reward pathway with exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) vs. sham UVR in frequent tanners: a pilot study. Addiction Biology, 17: 680–686. doi:10.1111/j.1369-1600.2010.00312.x
As the weather warms up and everyone starts to head outside, we need to remember to be kind to our skin. One of the most important ways to take care of your skin is to protect it from the sun. While soaking up some rays can be good for the body, by increasing the amount of Vitamin D, excessive exposure can cause wrinkles and age spots, and can increase the risk of skin cancer (1). Research shows a strong dose-response relationship between UV exposure and skin cancer, the more time you spend tanning, the higher the risk of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer (2).
Exposure to UV is not the only way source of irreparable damage to the skin. Tanning beds, which rely mainly on UVA light to create a tan, have been classified by The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as carcinogenic to humans (2). In fact, studies show that occasional use of tanning beds triples the risk of developing melanoma.
Fortunately, there are simple approaches to help protect from damaging UV rays. The best way to protect yourself from UVA exposure is to not use tanning beds. Tanning beds are dangerous, and offer virtually no positive health benefits.
Here are three ways to protect yourself from damage caused by excess exposure to the sun(1):
- Wear sunscreen when outdoors with at least 15 SPF and reapply every two hours. Regular daily use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent (3).
- Seek shade or shelter during from about 10 am to 2 pm when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Wear protective clothing when you are outdoors for prolonged periods of time.
As you head outside this summer, remember to protect yourself to ensure that your skin, and your body, stays healthy and happy!
- Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up. J Clin Oncol 2011; 29(3):257-263.