Are Tanning Beds Safe?

tanning bed
Photo credit Flickr/Jason & Megan Mills. Posted under this Creative Commons license.

Updated 1/28/16

If you’re thinking about hitting the tanning beds to get started on your “base tan,” don’t. That’s the advice of Jennifer Y Lin, MD, of Dana-Farber’s Center for Melanoma Oncology.

Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is on the rise, particularly in women aged 25-32. The frequency of tanning and age at which you start tanning both affect your risk of melanoma. Too much sun exposure of any kind can be harmful, but tanning booths are even worse. Seventy-five percent of melanomas diagnosed between the ages of 18 to 29 years of age are associated with tanning bed use. Tanning beds emit three to six times the amount of radiation given off by the sun, meaning that using a bed or a booth for 20 minutes translates into one to three hours of lying out at the beach without any sun screen protection.

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed banning use of tanning beds/sun lamps for people under the age of 18, and those over 18 who do tan would have to sign a risk acknowledgement certification.

Indoor tanning systems expose users to ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which deeply penetrates the surface of the skin, damages underlying cells, and prematurely ages skin. Contrary to common thought, tanning beds don’t provide users with any vitamin D, an essential part of health. (Most people only need five to ten minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times a week to help your skin make this crucial vitamin.)

To better your skin health, incorporate orange juice, milk, fish, and supplements into your diet as alternative sources of Vitamin D, avoid prolonged periods of time in the sun without sun screen protection, see your dermatologist yearly, and stay away from tanning beds.