The safety of tanning beds is a common question that’s ignited a great deal of debate. Tanning salon companies will tell you that their beds are 100 percent safe and provide a bounty of important benefits. But is tanning indoors truly a safe way to attain a golden glow?
Tanning’s ample appeal
Every day about a million people visit a tanning bed to get bronzed. Every year, almost 30 million people tan indoors. From that staggering figure, 2.3 million are teens. The biggest motivator for these individuals is certainly a vain one: In the eyes of the current cultural standard, tanning means looking pretty, skinny and healthy. So, it’s not surprising that millions flock to get their tan on.
You’ll find an array of common claims that extol indoor tanning, whether they’re circulating amongst your group of friends or playing out in the media with positive messages from tanning salon organizations. In reality, however, these claims are merely myths.
- Indoor tanning is safer than sunbathing outdoors. According to the American Tanning Institute, the biggest advantage that tanning beds have over regular ol’ sunlight is more control. On its Web site, the organization explains that being outdoors leaves you "at the mercy of many uncontrolled elements," such as ground reflection, cloudy days, latitude and high altitude.
But, the element of control doesn’t prevail over environmental elements when a tanning bed’s lamps are so powerful: New high-pressure lamps at tanning salons are so much more intense that they emit 15 times more UV radiation than the sun, according to Everyday Health.
- It does your body good. Organizations like the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) assert that tanning is actually good for you. Just recently, the organization released a series of campaigns, announcing, "Go get a tan. Your body will thank you," reports ABC News. A representative of ITA told ABC News, "Not only is moderate tanning completely safe, more and more it's becoming just what the doctor ordered."
But did the doctor order aging skin, eye impairment, immune suppression and damage to DNA cells? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, studies show that these are all likely complications of indoor tanning.
- Tanning beds are a rich source of vitamin D. On its Web site, the ITA states, "Moderate exposure to sunlight is the only way to help the body manufacture the vitamin D it needs."
However, dermatologists disagree. "Under no circumstances should anyone be misled into thinking that natural sunlight or tanning beds are better sources of vitamin D than foods or nutritional supplements," explains dermatologist Vincent A. DeLeo, M.D., associate professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University and chairman of the dermatology department at St. Luke’s Roosevelt and Beth Israel Hospital Centers.
Instead of risking sun damage for your vitamin D, choose fortified foods, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel or vitamin D supplements — always talk to your doctor first before beginning a new supplement.
- You can tan all you want as long as you don’t burn. Though some tanning salon companies will educate you on the importance of not getting a sunburn, it isn’t solely a sunburn that puts you at higher risk for cancer. "Skin cancer comes from a mutation of DNA in the skin cells. A sunburn is not a sign you have mutated the DNA. It is very possible to damage your skin without a burn," dermatologist Jody A. Levine, M.D., tells WebMD.
So, as a tanning enthusiast, you might not experience a sunburn but you're still upping your risk for skin cancer. Dr. Levine explains, "It is the UVB radiation that is more likely to cause a sunburn, and UVA -- used in most sun beds -- causes deeper skin damage leading to skin cancer."
- You're only tanning for a short amount of time. At first glance, this makes sense: There’s no way a mere 20 minutes in a tanning bed can invite skin damage. According to The Boston Globe, however, spending 20 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to being at the beach for one to three hours without sun protection.
- Using a tanning bed a few times won’t hurt. Many believe that minimal tanning — several sessions here and there — doesn’t do much harm. But, you don’t need to be a tanning bed regular to incur damage: Just one tanning session can mimic the damage seen in early skin cancers, reports ABC News.
- "Tanning causes melanoma: Hype." This ad from ITA suggests that recent reports — that state indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer — are simply propaganda. According to Marie Claire, however, tanning indoors boosts your risk of melanoma by 75 percent before you’re 35 years old. Considering millions of teens turn to tanning beds, this is especially alarming. In fact, according to the president of the American Academy of Dermatology, C. William Hanke, M.D., an American person dies every hour from melanoma.