Indoor Tanning 101: Do You Know the Risks?

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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Tanning beds have no place in a healthy skin routine. Make sure you have the facts about this harmful habit.

Having worked at The Skin Cancer Foundation for several years, the idea that anyone still uses tanning beds is shocking to me. How could anyone think the look of a tan is worth the premature skin aging? Or the sharp increase in risk of developing a deadly skin cancer?

Then I realized not everyone spends their days reading about the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays and the consequences of skin cancer, like I do. What’s clear to me, a reformed indoor tanner with all the statistics at my fingertips, may not be so obvious to others. While more people are aware of the dangers of indoor tanning than ever before, there is still a good portion of the population that tans regularly. Before you step into a tanning salon, be sure you know the facts — understanding the risks of using a tanning bed could make you think twice.

What is a tan? Is a tan different if sustained in a tanning bed?

A tan can appear when ultraviolet radiation reaches your skin and causes genetic damage to the cells. As the outermost layer of your skin is harmed by UV rays, the skin tries to prevent further injury by making melanin. This pigment is what produces skin darkening — what we see as a tan.

There is no such thing as a safe UV tan, whether it’s sustained on the beach, an athletic field or in a tanning bed. Tanning beds primarily emit UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB and are primarily responsible for tanning and skin aging. Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to a higher risk of skin cancer, and indoor tanning devices have been classified as Group 1 devices by the World Health Organization (WHO), meaning they are cancer-causing to humans. Group 1 also includes agents like plutonium and cigarettes. Yikes.

A Serious Risk Factor

There’s a good reason groups like the WHO and the FDA have called out indoor tanning devices as carcinogenic: Research shows that more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking. A tanning habit is incredibly harmful because the damage is cumulative. Every time you step into a tanning booth, the damage builds up, creating more DNA mutations and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Indoor tanning at a young age (when many may want a bronze look for prom or spring break) compounds the damage. One study observing 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30 found that 61 of them – that’s 97 percent — used tanning beds.

Not a Good Look

Beyond the risk of developing skin cancer, indoor tanning can wreak aesthetic havoc on your skin. Rather than the “healthy glow” often cited by tanning advocates, indoor tanning can dehydrate and prematurely age your skin. UV damage, especially the concentrated kind from a tanning bed, can cause unsightly dark spots, fine lines and leathery skin. Also, the idea that indoor tanning can help hide the appearance of acne is false: any improvement in the appearance of red blemishes is temporary at best. When a sunburn or tan begins to fade, it often leads to itching, peeling and flaking. You may be tempted to pick at your skin, which can lead to scarring not unlike that left by moderate to severe acne.

Say Yes to a Healthy Glow

The best way to avoid the very real risks of indoor tanning is simple: avoid it! I know how tempting it can be to want the look of a tan for a vacation or summer break, but the consequences down the road aren’t worth it. While learning to appreciate your skin’s natural tone is a great way to avoid the risks of tanning, there are plenty of sunless tanning options out there. Gone are the days when an obvious orange spray tan is your only safe alternative for a bronze look. Self-tanners come in lotions, sprays, gels and even drops you can add to your favorite moisturizer. That way, you can achieve a “tan” without sacrificing your skin’s health. And keeping skin healthy and safe from UV rays is a surefire way to keep it glowing.

The post Indoor Tanning 101: Do You Know the Risks? appeared first on The Skin Cancer Foundation.