The Truth About Tanning Beds: 4 Lies Tanning Salons Tell You

Indoor tanning is big business, with an estimated $2.6 billion revenue in 2010. Despite efforts by the Food & Drug Administration and the American Academy of Dermatology to restrict false advertising, these for-profit enterprises often shade the truth about the serious consequences of indoor tanning. Perhaps you’ve seen some of these “whoppers” posted at local fitness centers or salons, promoting their tanning services:

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It’s safer than natural sun exposure.

False. Indoor tanning uses a different spectrum of light than sunlight, but the overall amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation received from sun lamps and tanning beds is often greater than natural sunlight. Indoor tanning markedly increases your risk for developing melanoma (the deadliest skin cancer type) and also non-melanoma skin cancers. Based on research data, indoor tanning could be responsible for close to 400,000 skin cancers each year in the U.S. Teens face particular risk. Using tanning beds before age 35 boosts melanoma risk by 59 percent and women younger than age 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they used indoor tanning.

It helps improve skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis.

False. Although other forms of light can be used to treat these conditions, indoor tanning uses a portion of ultraviolet light that is not known to be an efficacious treatment for these skin diseases. Paradoxically, indoor tanning may even have detrimental consequences in these skin diseases, since other proven treatments like antibiotics, can make your skin even more sensitive to UV radiation and the damage it causes.

In addition, UV light (from either natural or artificial sources) increases wrinkle formation and skin aging. Good UV protection is one of the best tools to reduce aging-related skin changes.

Getting a “base” tan before going on a beach vacation helps to protect your skin from burning.

False. A tan is how your skin responds to damage but it’s very ineffective at preventing additional sun damage and sunburns. The damage caused by ultraviolet light is cumulative—and permanent. It does not go away after the tan fades. The only way to safely and effectively prevent sun damage and burning is to follow good sun protective measures. Use sun protective clothing, choose outdoor activities wisely and plan them for times of the day when the sunlight is weaker. Seek shade during the sun’s most intense hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cover all your exposed skin areas daily with broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of at least 30. Reapply every two hours, and after swimming or exercising.

Indoor tanning is a good way to get vitamin D.

False. The UV radiation from indoor tanning equipment is not the right kind to induce appropriate vitamin D production. It is better to get your vitamin D from healthy eating and taking oral supplements without increasing skin cancer risk.