What do you think about tanning beds? You can get a 'healthy-looking' complexion even during the winter months, and store some Vitamin D. Isn't this great? No, it actually isn't! In fact, they are dangerous and by using them you risk to tan your way to cancer. Terrifying, right? Learn more about the risks of indoor tanning and the link between tanning beds and skin cancer.
What is Indoor Tanning?
Indoor tanning is basically the process of acquiring cosmetic tan by using a device (bed) that emits ultraviolet radiation.
You can find different indoor options but most common are the horizontal tanning beds in salons, spas and gyms. Tanning beds are also known as sunbeds or solarium. You can also find vertical devices which are known as tanning booths or stand-up sunbeds.
Indoor tanning became popular first in the late 1970s in Scandinavia. People use tanning beds for various reasons - to improve their skin tone, to acquire pre-holiday tan, to improve their mood, to 'treat' acne.
Quick Facts about Indoor Tanning Use
Vitamin D is crucial for your body and over-all health. It is necessary so you can absorb calcium. In children, for example, too little Vitamin D results in soft and fragile bones. Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to cancer, heart disease, weight gain and depression.
Unfortunately, the tanning industry uses these facts to convince consumers that the best way for them to get Vitamin D is by laying in their tanning beds.
I see more and more tanning studios promoting their UVB ray-tanning beds as their the 'healthier' version. Although UVB radiation is needed for the body to produce Vitamin D, you shouldn't be exposing yourself directly under any kind of UV rays, without sunscreen protection.
Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. "However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians," says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. "After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels."
Source: Make Vitamin D, not UV, a Priority - Skin Cancer Foundation
That fact is, you can get all necessary Vitamin D by eating a healthy diet and/or from vitamin supplements.
Types of UV rays
Talking about UV rays, let's see what differences are between the types of UV radiation and what effect they have on your skin.
UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic light that comes from the sun and reaches the earth. UV rays are shorter than visible light and thus invisible for the naked eye. The UV rays are classified in three types - UVA, UVB, or UVC.
UVA are the longest, followed by the UVB, and the shortest of them are UVC which are absorbed by the ozone layer and do not reach the us.
Both UVA and UVB, however, do penetrate the atmosphere and reach us, playing role in developing conditions like photo-aging (sun-induced skin aging) and skin cancer.
To make sure your are protected from both UVB and UVA rays, make sure you choose a broad-spectrum product. UVA are long enough to reach skin's dermis (dermal layer), damaging elastic tissue and collagen. Read more about protecting your skin from UV rays and choosing sunscreen here.
Skin Cancer Study
A 2012 study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Oncology observed 73,494 female nurses for 20 years (from 1989 to 2009) and investigated whether frequency of tanning bed use at a young age was associated with a risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma.
The results showed that 5,506 nurses were diagnosed with BCC, 403 with SCC, and 349 with melanoma. The study found that there is a significantly higher risk of BCC for tanning bed use during high school/college compared to users at ages 25 to 35 years.
The study provides evidence for a dose-response relationship between using tanning beds the risk of skin cancers (especially basal cell carcinoma (BCC). It also shows that the association is stronger for patients with a younger age at exposure.
Sun Tanning vs. Indoor Tanning
Sun or tanning bed? Which one is better? Well, I am glad you asked 'cause the answer is... neither of them!
The 'healthy glow' from sun bathing or indoor tanning is an indication that the harmful ultraviolet rays have damaged your skin. When UV rays damage the skin, the melanin pigment causes the skin to change to a darker color. And I am sorry to break your heart, but regardless of the method, tanning is not good for your skin.
Sun Tanning - It's natural and feels good and yet it damages the skin if precautions are not taken. Unprotected exposure to sunlight is damaging to your skin and can tremendously increase the chances for developing cancer. Always wear your SPF regardless of the season and weather outside and avoid the midday sun, when the rays are strongest.
Tanning Beds - As I already said, it is a misconception that indoor tanning is a healthy source of Vitamin D. Tanning beds emit approximately 12 times more UVA light than natural sunlight, meaning that by choosing to use them, you put your health at great risk.
Final Thoughts on Tanning Beds And Skin Cancer
Although I have never been a ‘heavy’ user of tanning beds, I did used them here and there. I would go a few times a year - prior a vacation or just to get the feeling of being under sunlight. Let me justify it - I live in Denmark, Scandinavia and winters here are veryyyy (not cold) but dark.
I got a lot of sun exposure though in my childhood - I grew up playing outdoors all day long without sunscreen. That's right, without sunscreen.
My point is - regardless of how unhealthy your habits once were, you can always change them and educate yourself.
So if you want to have 'healthy glow', wear sunscreen, eat healthy diet, see you doctor for annual checks aaaand stay away from tanning beds!
I hope the post was helpful. Stay tuned and take skin care!
1. Indoor Tanning - Wikipedia
2. UVA & UVB - Skin Cancer Foundation
3. Indoor Tanning - American Academy Of Dermatology
4. Why Is Tanning Dangerous? - Melanoma Research Foundation
5. Zhang, Mingfeng, Abrar A. Qureshi, Alan C. Geller, Lindsay Frazier, David J. Hunter, and Jiali Han. "Use of tanning beds and incidence of skin cancer." Journal of Clinical Oncology 30, no. 14 (2012): 1588.
6. Make Vitam D, Not UV, a Priority - Skin Cancer Doundation