Are Tanning Beds Safe?

Absolutely not! There is no such thing as a 'safe' tan
woman in tanning bed

You may be tempted to hop in a tanning bed for a few minutes to get a base tan before you hit the pool or beach with friends and family. 

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Think again.

The risks of using tanning beds could be deadly. Gone are the days of wondering whether or not tanning beds can cause cancer and if they’re worse than the sun. 

“The short answer is, yes, tanning beds are just as, if not more, harmful than the sun and there is no such thing as a safe tan,” says dermatologist Jennifer Lucas, MD. “There’s many reasons to avoid tanning beds altogether.”

The danger of tanning beds

Tanning beds may increase your risk for skin cancer, suppress your immune system, cause problems with your eyes and prematurely age your skin.

“Frankly, we all want to look younger,” says Dr. Lucas. “Why do people tan? Because they want to look good, but the more exposure you get, the more photoaging or damage you do to your skin.”

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Tanning beds radiate UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and damage collagen, the basic building block of our skin and elastin that helps to keep us looking younger. Using tanning beds can result in dark spots and leathery, wrinkled skin that may cost hundreds, if not thousands, to repair later in life, if this is even possible. Use of sunscreen is your number one tool to help prevent skin damage. 

The damage doesn’t stop there. When you use a tanning bed, you put your eyes at risk for cataracts and ocular melanoma. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that tanning beds produce 100 times more UV levels, or the expected intensity of ultraviolet radiation, than what you would get from the sun. This can severely damage the external and internal structures of your eyes and eyelids. It’s imperative that you take the right precautions to protect your eyes from harmful UVA rays and get yearly eye exams.

Tanning beds and skin cancer

Studies have linked tanning bed use to an increased risk of all forms of skin cancers. Your risk can go up as much as 15% for every four tanning bed visits. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that there’s a 75% increased risk of developing life-threatening melanoma from just one indoor tanning session before age 35. 

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and has the ability to spread to any organ. When found early, melanoma is highly treatable, but you need to know what to look for. If a mole looks different than any others on your body, head to your dermatologist to check it out. 

How to check for skin cancer

When looking at a mole applying the following algorithm, keeping simple like the ABCDE’s.

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A: Asymmetry: It looks different from one side to the other.
B: Borders: The borders are irregular, have projections, missing areas or do not stop abruptly.
C: Color: There is variation in color (the mole is more than one color).
D: Diameter: Moles bigger than 6 mm, or the size of a pencil eraser, are more worrisome.
E: Evolution: If you notice changes in your mole, this should be evaluated.  

Skin cancer increases among younger groups

Dermatologists are seeing skin cancers developing in younger people, which many experts attribute to tanning bed use.

“It’s that younger, female age group that’s really starting to have an increased risk of melanoma,” says Dr. Lucas. “It’s hard to know exactly what to attribute that to, but probably the biggest thing we’re seeing is that younger women are the ones in tanning beds.” 

With such a large variety of sunless tanning products on the market today, there really is no reason to keep using tanning beds. 

“The safest way to tan is through sunless tanning,” says Dr. Lucas. “I recommend store-bought or professionally done spray tans or lotions/cream to get your healthy glow.”

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