Many people believe that using a tanning bed, booth or sunlamp is safer than tanning outside in the sun. But the truth is that just like sun tanning, indoor tanning also exposes users to two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays, UVA and UVB, which can lead to skin cancer.
UV rays can damage the actual DNA of skin cells, which is what is believed to lead to skin cancer. They also damage the skin, causing wrinkles, rashes and dark spots. And tanning is particularly dangerous for the young. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who begin tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have a higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. This may be due to greater use of indoor tanning among those who begin tanning at earlier ages.
Every time you tan, whether indoors or at the beach, you increase your risk of getting skin cancer, including melanoma. Indoor tanning also—
- Causes premature skin aging, like wrinkles and age spots.
- Changes your skin texture.
- Increases the risk of potentially blinding eye diseases, if eye protection is not used.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., and unlike almost all other kinds of cancer, the rates are climbing. Today, more than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the U.S. That’s more than all other cancers combined. The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to limit your exposure to UV rays, whether they come from the sun or from man-made sources such as indoor tanning beds.
Indoor Tanning Myths and Truths
A base tan is not a safe tan.
Truth: A tan is the body’s response to injury from UV rays, showing that damage has been done. It does little to protect you from future UV exposure.
Tanned skin is not healthy skin.
Truth: Whether tanning or burning, you are exposing yourself to harmful UV rays that damage your skin. In fact, every time you tan, you increase your risk of melanoma.
Controlled tanning is not safe tanning.
Truth: Indoor tanning exposes you to intense UV rays, increasing your risk of melanoma—the second most common cancer in women between 20 and 29 years old.
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a proven human carcinogen.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of agents that are cancer-causing to humans. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV radiation.
- Eleven states plus the District of Columbia now prohibit indoor tanning for minors younger than age 18.
- Brazil and Australia have banned indoor tanning altogether. Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the UK have banned indoor tanning for people younger than age 18.
- More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,200 melanomas.
- More people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
- Individuals who have used tanning beds 10 or more times in their lives have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma compared to those who have never used tanning beds.
- People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.
How to protect yourself
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
- Cover up. When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV light.
- Use sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection and a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Be sure to reapply at least every 2 hours, as well as after swimming or sweating. And always follow the directions on the label.
- Seek shade. Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Cancer Society