SkinCancerNet Article
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 and skin.

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 tanning include:

  • Skin cancer

  • 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)

  • Cataracts

  • Premature aging (developing age spots, wrinkles, and other signs of aging years before these naturally occur)

  • 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 skin.

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 Quickly
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 skin cancer.

More Information
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

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2 American Academy of Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology Association Commends President Bush for Signing Tanning Accountability and Notification (TAN) Act. News release: 2007, September 27.

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.

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