- Tanning beds use UV radiation to damage the DNA of your skin cells, causing a tan.
- Indoor tanning is more dangerous than outdoor tanning, since tanning beds can emit ultraviolet radiation at a level 10 to 15 times stronger than you would get from being in the sun.
- Some of the health risks associated with tanning beds are premature ageing and an increased risk of skin or eye cancer.
- This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Those who head to tanning salons to get that coveted sun-kissed, tan put their health at risk. Each year, roughly 450,000 new skin cancer cases are linked to indoor tanning. In short, no tanning bed is safe. Here’s what you need to know.
Tanning beds emit more harmful radiation than the sun
Ultraviolet (UV) rays, whether from the sun or tanning beds,damage the DNA of your outer skin cells. Whether your skin turns red or tans, the damage is still done.
However, indoor tanning is more dangerous than outdoor tanning in the sun, according to board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Because tanning beds can emit ultraviolet radiation at a level 10 to 15 times stronger than you would get from sun exposure, even at the height of a sunny day. These stronger radiation levels can cause more severe and deeper skin cell damage.
- UVA rays are slightly lower energy than UVB rays, which means they penetrate deeper into the skin causing wrinkles, sunspots, and other signs of premature ageing.
- UVB rays don’t penetrate as deeply, but their high energy means they damage skin cells more severely, causing sunburn, redness, and skin cancer. They can also suppress the immune system.
Health risks associated with indoor tanning
The risks of artificial UV exposure include:
Increased risk of cancer.
Tanning beds dramatically increase your risk certain skin cancers such as melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma.
Some visible signs of sun damage include wrinkles, sagging skin, dark sunspots, and loss of skin elasticity. A 2013 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology found that about 80% of visible ageing signs are caused by UV damage.
Increased risk of eye cancer.
If you don’t wear protective eye coverings while tanning in a tanning bed, it increases the risk of numerous eye problems such as cataracts, sunburn of the cornea, macular degeneration, and even eye cancers.
Even just one tanning bed session can cause harm.
“Just like one cigarette can damage lung tissue and cause a mutation leading to lung cancer, even one session of tanning can increase your risk of developing a deadly melanoma skin cancer,” says Nazarian.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, if you have even one tanning bed session before the age of 35, you have a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma. UV damage is cumulative, so the more you’re exposed, the higher your risk becomes.
Alternatives to tanning beds
Nazarian recommends essentially any method of skin pigmentation that doesn’t involve UV radiation.
Some of your options here are bronzers, spray tans, or more gradual tan applicators that can come in lotion, foam, or cream form. Formulations have come a long way with sunless tanning products, and you can find plenty of options that emulate a natural tan rather than the dreaded orange-y look.
However, it should be noted that having this kind of “tan” – or any tan – will not protect you from harmful UV rays, so be sure to always wear sunscreen when you go outside to be as safe as possible and prevent sun damage.
See other articles about skin health:
- What is sun poisoning and what makes it different from sunburn
- How to get rid of ingrown hairs at home
- Stre ss doesn’t cause acne, but it can increase your risk for breakouts
- How to identify and remove a skin tag
- Yes, pregnancy can cause acne but there are safe ways to treat it
- What causes a stye and the best ways to get rid of one
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