Know the risks. Know the facts.
Indoor tanning: Know the risks
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of energy from natural or artificial sunlight. Excess UV radiation can damage the DNA in your skin and increase the production of the skin pigment melanin, which causes your skin to change color. Here are some of the serious, identified risks:
- Melanoma is a sometimes deadly skin cancer. Using tanning beds before age 35 can result in an estimated 59% greater risk of developing melanoma. Melanoma is a common cancer in young people.
- The World Health Organization has placed indoor tanning in its highest cancer-risk category, “carcinogenic to humans,” the same category as tobacco.
- Premature aging (photoaging) can cause the skin to look leathery and wrinkled, and can result in dark spots forming on the skin.
- Photoaging can also cause burns and injury to the skin and eyes, increase allergic reactions. and suppress the immune system.
Additional factors that can Increase these risks include:
- having a light complexion that burns easily
- having a family member who had skin cancer
- being teenaged or younger — indoor tanning at young ages increases risk later in life
- having an immune deficiency or chronic disease, or taking certain medications that may make you more sensitive to UV radiation
Tanning and minors: the law
Teenage girls and young women are often targeted by advertising that promotes indoor tanning as safe. Research clearly demonstrates that the earlier an individual engages in indoor tanning, the greater the risk for skin cancer in later years. The American Academy of Pediatrics even states, “Tanning salons are not safe and should not be used by teenagers or others.”
New York State Public Health Law prohibits persons under age 17 from using UV tanning devices. It also requires that persons 17 years of age have a parent or legal guardian sign a consent form before using them. Those 18 or older must provide a driver’s license or other government- or school-issued photo identification before using UV radiation devices.
Take precautions if taking the risk
People who choose to expose themselves to UV radiation from indoor tanning and ignore the health warnings associated with this dangerous activity should take certain safety precautions, including:
- Wear FDA-certified protective goggles provided at no charge by the tanning salon, making sure they fit snugly and are not cracked.
- Follow manufacturer-recommended exposure times for your skin type (and do not exceed your prescribed time limit).
- Seek immediate medical attention for severe burns, allergic reactions, and unusual skin lesions or sores.
Know the facts: dispelling myths and misconceptions
“Indoor tanning is less dangerous” FALSE
Some people argue that indoor tanning is less dangerous than outdoor tanning because the intensity of the light and the time spent tanning are controlled. The truth is:
- UV output of tanning devices is much greater — up to 15 times greater — than natural sunlight, and the bulbs are very close to your skin.
- Not all tanning devices emit the same amount of UV radiation, so exposure is inconsistent and not as controlled as advertised.
- Tanning-salon operators are not typically health care professionals and lack the training and knowledge associated with UV overexposure. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,800 injuries requiring visits to the emergency room are attributed to UV radiation from tanning beds each year.
“Indoor tanning is a safe way to acquire vitamin D.” FALSE
Scientific studies have proven that most people receive enough vitamin D from food and natural sunlight. If additional vitamin D is needed, a supplement containing vitamin D corrects this deficiency safely, without the UV exposure risk associated with cancer.
“A pre-vacation — or ‘base’ — tan protects you from getting a sunburn.” FALSE
The truth is that indoor tans provide a sun protection factor (SPF) of 3, which is way below the generally recommended 30 SPF to protect against sunburns. So, not only are pre-vacation tanners exposed to UV radiation at indoor tanning salons prior to their trip, they also are not protected from sunburns while they are vacationing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence that getting a “base tan” reduces the risk of skin cancer.
The following leading national organizations recognize the high cancer risk associated with indoor tanning:
- American Academy of Dermatology
- American Academy of Ophthalmology
- American Academy of Pediatrics American Cancer Society
- American Medical Association
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
New York State Health Department
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
American Academy of Dermatology
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention