Nowadays, almost everyone knows that tanning beds cause skin cancer. It’s no surprise that people who have used indoor tanning beds are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in their 20s than those who have never tanned indoors. And I am sure you can tell that those who use taning beds look a lot older than they say they are!
So why do so many still tan indoors? We have heard all the excuses, “I feel better about myself when I’m tan,” “tanning helps me with my seasonal affective disorder,” “I look thinner when I’m tan.” Whatever the reason, there are two questions to ask yourself when thinking about using a tanning bed. First, is there a healthier alternative to get the same outcome as indoor tanning? And Second; are any of those reasons to be tan worth getting skin cancer over? I can answer that last one for you, NO!
Let’s dive into the five biggest myths about indoor tanning and get the facts!
“Year-round UV exposure is essential for vitamin D and good health”
There are two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause sunburn, while UVA rays lead to tanning and skin aging. Vitamin D is produced in your body when UVB rays interact with protein in your skin. Tanning beds only produce UVA rays, meaning no vitamin D is produced while indoor tanning. The exact benefits of vitamin D are still being researched, but we do know that it is crucial for bone health. Vitamin D is important; however most people will get an ample amount from incidental sun exposure alone. You only need a few minutes a day. Walking to your car a few times will do it! If you live in a climate where the sun doesn’t shine during the winter (…like Michigan) you can eat fortified foods or take a supplement to fill the gap. While year-round tanning will increase your risk for skin cancer, it will not increase your vitamin D levels.
“Indoor tanning is safer than suntanning”
In the past, UVA rays (the ones used in tanning beds) were only associated with skin aging. Now we know that their longer wavelength actually penetrates the skin more deeply and is strongly linked to melanoma. One study observing 63 women, diagnosed with melanoma before age 30, found that 97 percent of them had used tanning beds. 97 percent! Just one visit to the tanning salon significantly increases your chances of skin cancer. We now know that indoor tanning is just as harmful as suntanning. In fact, indoor tanning is more dangerous than cigarette smoking!
“A base tan before a vacation prevents more dangerous sun damage”
Not that long ago many people believed this one. It was very normal to go tanning a few times before you went on vacation and hit the beach. Now we know better. Any tan, no matter the degree, is a manifestation of DNA damage in the skin cells. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sunburn or a bronzed tan, the damage starts happening immediately. Tanning before a sun filled vacation certainly does not prevent dangerous sun damage, it adds to it!
“Indoor tanning is a safe and effective, cheaper alternative to physician-supervised phototherapy”
People in the tanning business have been known to tell customers that doctors put people in their light boxes because it helps with psoriasis and other skin conditions. It is very important to understand that the light boxes doctors use are very different from tanning beds. Today many dermatologists use a laser or what’s called narrow-brand UVB for psoriasis. Also, they will spot treat the skin in the problem area, not your whole body. Doctors know how to properly use these techniques while still understanding the risk. When patients agree to have light box treatments done, they must sign an informed consent stating that they understand the tradeoff. In no way, shape, or form, is indoor tanning a safe and effective alternative to physician-supervised phototherapy.
“Tanning beds are a good way to improve your mood or treat seasonal affective disorder”
No one can doubt that the warm feeling from the sun or even a tanning bed feels good, but is that feeling worth getting skin cancer, absolutely not! There are many other safe and healthy ways to boost your mood! If it is the look of being tan that makes you feel better, try a self-tanner. You can get the same bronzed look without the harmful rays. If it is the warmth and light that helps your seasonal affective disorder, try using a “happy light”. These lights emit visible light you absorb through your eyes rather than harmful UV light absorbed by your skin. The biggest mood booster is to get outside in the daylight (with sun protection of course) and soak up all mother nature has to offer.
Everybody is different but do your research, and I guarantee you will find a safe and healthy way to improve your mood without the use of harmful tanning beds.
Now that you know that facts about these tanning myths, it will be even easier for you to make the right choice the next time you think about indoor tanning.
Sarnoff, Deborah S. “Seeing the Light on Indoor Tanning .” The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal, 2018, pp. 70–74.