Tanning Beds Are NOT a Safe Alternative to Sunbathing!

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: December 6, 2019

Tanning salons are not a safe alternative to the harmful rays of the sun. Studies have found that using tanning salons increases the risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers. More than 400,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the United States each year may be associated with use of indoor tanning. Beginning to use a tanning bed before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent and the risk increases with each use. It is estimated that 9.7 million Americans use indoor tanning devices each year and the tanning industry makes about $5 billion per year.

About 96,480 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year. 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 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 diagnosed 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 beds is at a high enough level to cause melanoma. The high level of UVA emitted by the light sources is known to cause 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).

Tanning, both indoor and outdoor, causes more cases of skin cancer than smoking does of lung cancer. Many states and Washington D.C. have created laws to prohibit people younger than 18 to use indoor tanning devices unless it has been prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Learn more from the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society

References

American Academy of Dermatology. Indoor Tanning. Found at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care

American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer. 2019. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe. 2019. Found at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm

Melanoma Research Foundation. Why is tanning dangerous? Found at: https://www.melanoma.org/understand-melanoma/preventing-melanoma/why-is-tanning-dangerous

Skin Cancer Foundation. https://www.skincancer.org

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