Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 23, 2012
Tanning salons are not a safe alternative to the harmful rays of the sun. Studies have found that tanning salons are very harmful and lead to an increased risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers. Those who go to tanning salons are 75% more likely to develop melanoma than those who do not. A frequent user of tanning beds (defined as using a tanning device for at least 50 hrs, 100 sessions, or 10yrs over a lifetime), at any age, is 2.5-3 times more likely to develop melanoma than never users. People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. It is estimated that 28 million Americans use indoor tanning devices each year at an estimated 25,000 tanning salons around the country.
Melanomas are the most common cancers in females 25-29 years old and account for 12% of cancers in women 20-40 years old. Overall, melanoma is more common in men. However, cases in those under 40 are more likely to be in women, most likely due to increased use of tanning salons among women in this age group. In the past, there was about an average 20-year period from the time of greatest sun exposure to the development of melanoma, but in recent years, melanomas are being diagnosed at younger ages. More melanomas are being seen only a few years after exposure - one study found an average of 7 years between exposure and cancer development. Natural sun exposure and sunburns will add to a person's risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime.
Both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet) rays can cause damage to the skin. Tanning bed light sources emit both. Contrary to some tanning bed industry claims, the UVB emitted by tanning bed light sources is of a sufficient level to cause melanoma, and the high level of UVA emitted by the light sources is known to induce DNA damage by producing free radicals that contribute to cancer formation. In addition to cancer, UVA and UVB rays can cause long-term skin damage, such as premature aging, wrinkles, and dark patches (lentigos, sometimes called age spots or liver spots).
Learn more from the Skin Cancer Foundation.