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When people use a tanning bed or booth or a sunlamp to get a tan, it's called indoor tanning. Indoor tanning uses artificial ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light, rather than sunlight, to tan the skin.
People may feel that a tan makes them look good and that a tan looks "healthy." But recent research has found that being exposed to the light from tanning beds isn't as safe as it might seem.
The light from a tanning device can cause skin cancer. Tanning devices are linked to basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and the most serious type of cancer, melanoma. Indoor tanning, especially if used before age 35, increases your risk for all these skin cancers.
And indoor tanning harms you in other ways as well. It can:
Most of us have stayed out in the sun too long and gotten a sunburn at some point in our lives. But when this happens during childhood or the teen years, it can increase the risk for melanoma later in life.
And because of the risk for skin cancer, medical experts recommend that children 18 and younger not use indoor tanning at all. Some states have made it illegal for children 18 and younger to use indoor tanning.
Even though indoor tanning isn't safe, some people still use it. But their reasons may not be valid.
If you like the way a tan looks, you can buy sunless tanning products. These are usually lotions, gels, and sprays that you put on the skin. These products color the skin to make it look like you have a tan. To keep your tan, reapply the tanning product regularly. If you use these products, cover your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears before you apply them.
These products are generally safe, but they don't protect against sunburn. You will still need to use sunscreen.
There are also tanning pills. These are not safe. They can cause problems such as liver damage and hives.
Indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer. If you choose to use a tanning device, you can take steps to reduce your risk.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Dermatology (2012). Indoor tanning. Available online: http://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/indoor-tanning.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Indoor tanning. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/indoor_tanning.htm.
El Ghissassi FE, et al. (2009). A review of human carcinogens—Part D: Radiation. Lancet Oncology, 10(8): 751–752. Also available online: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(09)70213-X/fulltext#article_upsell.
International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on Artificial Ultraviolet (UV) Light and Skin Cancer (2006). The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review. International Journal of Cancer, 120(5): 1116–1122. Also available online: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.22453/pdf.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2010). Indoor tanning: The risks of ultraviolet light. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm186687.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
& Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
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