Indoor Tanning: What You May Not Know
The perceived health benefits of
indoor tanning may be encouraging some unhealthy practices. One
particularly dangerous practice is using a tanning bed to get a base
tan. Many people mistakenly believe that this is a healthy way to
prevent sunburn and reduce their risk of skin cancer. Relying on
tanning beds to get vitamin D also may jeopardize one’s health. The
following sheds light on two myths associated with indoor tanning.
Base Tan Myth
Before heading to a sunny destination, some people visit a tanning
salon to get a base tan, also known as a pre-vacation tan. The
common misconception is that a base tan helps protect the skin from
getting sunburned. Feeling protected with a base tan, people are
more likely to spend time in the tropical sun without sunscreen.
The truth of the matter: Tanning
beds and tanning lamps emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation — just like
the sun. This radiation is so harmful that the United States
Department of Health & Human Services lists UV radiation from the
sun and artificial tanning devices such as tanning beds and tanning
lamps as a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).
To help ensure that these dangers are
effectively communicated on indoor tanning devices, President Bush
signed the Tanning Accountability and Notification (TAN) Act into
law in September 2007. The TAN Act directs the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), which regulates tanning equipment, to
re-examine the language and positioning of the warning label on
indoor tanning devices. This goal is to ensure that warning labels
effectively communicate the risk of irreversible damage to the eyes
About 29 states have passed legislation
that limits a minor's access to indoor tanning. Most of these states
require written parental consent before a person under a specific
age — minimum age varies from state to state — may use an indoor
tanning device such as a tanning bed at a tanning salon. Some states
also set age limits, mandating that people must be a certain age to
use indoor tanning devices.
The health risks associated with indoor
Actinic keratoses (a lesion caused
by exposure to UV rays that can progress to squamous cell
carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread)
Burns (skin and eyes)
Premature aging (developing age
spots, wrinkles, and other signs of aging years before these
Weakened immune system, which
increases risk of infections and skin cancer
Vitamin D Myth
Vitamin D helps keep our bones healthy, prevent fractures, and
maintain muscle strength. Some recent headlines suggest that vitamin
D also reduces the risk of developing several types of cancer
including colon and breast cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), high
blood pressure, and other diseases. These studies have many people
wondering if exposure to UV rays from the sun, tanning beds, and sun
lamps may not be so bad after all.
The truth of the matter:
Exposure to UV rays — whether from the sun, tanning beds, or sun
lamps — damages our skin. More frequent exposure results in the
accumulation of damaged skin cells, which leads to wrinkles, skin
discoloration, leathery skin, and age spots on the surface on the
skin. If the skin continues to be damaged by UV radiation, skin
cancer can develop. Studies have shown that when properly applied
sunscreen can effectively prevent this UV–induced damage to the
It is best to obtain vitamin D safely
from a healthy diet that contains naturally enriched foods and
vitamin supplements rather than from the sun and tanning devices.
Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and egg yolk are rich sources of this
important nutrient. Milk fortified with vitamin D also provides a
good source of vitamin D. Other foods that may be fortified with
vitamin D include soy milk, cereals, and breads.
Serious Health Problems Can Develop
Exposure to UV radiation is one of the risk factors for skin cancer,
and serious health problems associated with exposure to UV radiation
do not always take decades to develop. With the growth of indoor
tanning, dermatologists are seeing more and more young people with
American Academy of Dermatology Association commends President Bush
for Signing Tanning Accountability and Notification (TAN) Act
Be Sun Smart®
Getting Burned by Tanning Beds (personal stories)
Indoor Tanning Fact Sheet
1 Indoor tanning--magnitude of the health issue. J Drugs
Dermatol 2006; 5: 193-5.
2 American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology
Association Commends President Bush for Signing Tanning
Accountability and Notification (TAN) Act. News release: 2007,
3 American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology
Warns against Indoor Tanning for the Holiday Season. News release:
2006, November 28.
4 Hillhouse J, Turrisi R. Skin cancer risk behaviors: a conceptual
framework for complex behavioral change. Archives of Dermatology
2005; 141: 1028-31.
5 Levine JA, Sorace M, Spencer J et al. The indoor UV tanning
industry: a review of skin cancer risk, health benefit claims, and
regulation. J Am Acad Dermatol 2005; 53: 1038-44.
6. Lichtenstein J, Sherertz EF. Harmful effects of indoor tanning.
Am Fam Physician 1985; 32: 142-6.
7. Robinson JK. Sun exposure, sun protection, and vitamin D. JAMA
2005; 294: 1541-3.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology