Tanning Beds and Skin Cancer

Li Liu, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
Do tanning beds cause skin cancer?  
Thank you.

Li Liu, MD, Editorial Assistant for OncoLink, responds:

Dear F:
Thank you for your interest and question.

Tanning beds use both ultraviolet A and B. Ultraviolet B, the middle wavelength, starts the tanning process, but overexposure can cause sunburn. Ultraviolet A has the longest wavelength, and it completes the tanning process. For most of the tanning beds on the market today, ultraviolet B is a small component.

Ultraviolet A radiation used for cosmetic tanning is thought to be capable of inducing nonmelanoma skin cancer (British Journal of Dermatology 1986; 115:67-76; Health Physics 1991; 61:285-288). Some premalignant conditions, e.g. keratoses, have also been observed in users of tanning beds (British Medical Journal 1994; 308:415).

Users of tanning beds often sunbathe, making it difficult to separate the effects of artificial and natural ultraviolet irradiation. However, as a general rule, we should be aware of the use of tanning beds as a risk factor for nonmelanoma skin cancer. The use of tanning beds should always be discouraged, and those who tan poorly or have an increased risk of skin cancer (i.e., persons with multiple nevi, freckles, previous severe sunburn, malignant skin lesions, or a history of immunosuppression) should never use them.


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