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Exploring the Real Safety of Tanning Beds: Risks & Facts

For decades, the allure of a golden tan has captivated individuals seeking to enhance their appearance. But as a dermatologist, I’ve seen the downside to a “healthy tan“, and it’s not pretty. There are inherent risks associated with excessive sun exposure, and concerns surrounding the safety of tanning beds have become a prevalent topic of discussion in recent years. With skin cancer rates on the rise, understanding the truth about tanning beds is paramount in making informed decisions about our skin’s health. This article delves into the topic of the safety of tanning beds, exploring the science behind their use and separating myths from realities.

People often view a tan as a symbol of health and beauty. Unfortunately, a tan signifies damage to your skin and increases your risk of skin cancer. As a medical professional, it’s vital to understand that achieving a tanned look, whether through tanning beds or the sun, comes at a high cost. This post dives deeper into the truth about the safety of tanning beds and the potential dangers that lurk beneath that tempting bronze glow.

Unveiling the Dangers of UV RadiatioN

Before we address the specific dangers of tanning beds, let’s first grasp how UV radiation interacts with our skin. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun.

When we expose our skin to UV radiation, it can damage the DNA in our skin cells. Over time, this damage can lead to premature skin aging, wrinkles, sunspots, and, most critically, various types of skin cancer, including melanoma – the deadliest form.

A study in the International Journal of Cancer stated that “sunbed use during adolescence and early adulthood is associated with an increased risk of early-onset melanoma“.

Understanding UVA and UVB Radiation

The ultraviolet radiation spectrum comprises two main types that affect our skin: UVA and UVB rays. Although they both cause harm, understanding their distinct roles is important.

  • UVA Rays:These long-wave rays penetrate deeply into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. They’re primarily responsible for tanning, premature skin aging, wrinkles, and age spots, but they also contribute to the development of skin cancer. Tanning beds primarily emit high levels of UVA radiation.
  • UVB Rays:These shorter-wave rays mostly impact the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. They’re the primary culprit behind sunburns, though they play a significant role in causing skin cancers too.

Tanning Beds: Amplifying the Risk

Tanning beds have gained popularity as a controlled alternative to sun tanning. Unfortunately, while some may think tanning beds offer a “safe” tan, this idea is dangerously false.

Tanning beds use lamps that emit concentrated levels of UV radiation, often containing both UVA and UVB rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that indoor tanning is more dangerous than outdoor tanning, as the radiation levels can be significantly higher – in some cases, up to 10 to 15 times stronger than the sun’s rays at peak hours.

According to the World Health Organization, this heightened exposure increases your risk of developing skin cancers significantly, particularly for those who start using them before age 35. Increased risk associated with indoor tanning before this age makes it especially risky for teenagers and young adults. Despite a vast amount of knowledge on this, a large portion of the population still tans regularly.

Why a Tanning Bed Tan Is Never Safe

Why a Tanning Bed Tan Is Never Safe
Photo by Yonatan Gonzalez on Pexels.com

Despite the scientific evidence on the risks of UV radiation, myths still circulate. Let’s dispel a few of these common misconceptions about tanning beds.

Myth 1: Tanning Beds are Safer than the Sun.

One of the most prevalent misunderstandings about the safety of tanning beds is that they are a safer alternative to outdoor tanning. Some proponents claim they offer a more controlled environment and can help users build a “base tan,” decreasing their risk of burning in natural sunlight.

This dangerous myth ignores the intense concentration of UVA rays emitted by tanning beds, which far exceeds what one would experience under natural sunlight. It’s worth remembering: there’s no way to get a safe tan from UV exposure, whether it comes from tanning beds or the sun.

Myth 2: Indoor Tanning is a Safe Source of Vitamin D.

While it’s true that our bodies synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight (specifically UVB rays), tanning beds offer minimal UVB radiation, thus negating this claimed benefit.

Relying on indoor tanning as a vitamin D source puts you at unnecessary risk for serious consequences without any significant benefit.

Risks Associated with Tanning Bed Use

Let’s break down some of the dangers involved with tanning bed use.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and the particularly dangerous melanoma, are significant risks associated with frequent tanning bed use. If you start using tanning beds before age 35, your risk of developing skin cancer significantly increases. This is particularly concerning for teenagers and young adults who are more susceptible to these risks and may underestimate the long-term consequences of their actions.

Just one session in a tanning bed can lead to visible signs of premature aging like wrinkles, leathery skin, and those unwanted age spots we all dread.

Overexposure to UVA rays accelerates the breakdown of collagen and elastin in your skin. These essential proteins give your skin strength and elasticity, and without them, our skin can sag and wrinkle prematurely, losing its youthful glow.

Eye Damage

Although many tanning salons give their customers eye protection, like goggles, the risks of eye damage remain significant. Repeated exposure to UV radiation, even with protective eyewear, can lead to cataracts, corneal burns, and ocular melanoma – cancer in the eyes.

You need to think long-term about the safety of your eyes when it comes to the potential impact of tanning beds.

Safer Alternatives for Achieving a Tan

Safer Alternatives for Achieving a Tan
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

So you still want that sun-kissed look without putting your health in jeopardy. This section will delve into several safer options that don’t involve dangerous UV exposure.

Sunless Tanning Products

Sunless tanners, a category that includes creams, lotions, mousses, and sprays, have advanced significantly in recent years. Modern formulations contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a color additive that interacts with the amino acids in your skin’s surface, resulting in a temporary browning effect without UV damage.

I personally would stay away from these product A 2013 study showed that about 80% of aging signs are caused by UV damage, emphasizing the importance of sunless tanning products.

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07/19/2024 05:08 am GMT

Spray Tanning

If you’re looking for a fast, professionally applied alternative to sunless tanners, consider getting a spray tan at a salon. They use an airbrush to create a more natural-looking and evenly-distributed tan.

Making Smart Choices for Your Skin’s Safety

While some may perceive tanned skin as desirable, it’s important to remember the risks that accompany this. Prioritizing your well-being and making healthy choices regarding sun exposure is essential.

Safe Tan Tips

Below are some of my personal recommendations based on my experiences with countless patients who sought help with sun-related issues.

  • Seek shade, particularly when the sun is at its strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Protect yourself with sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, wear sunscreen. Find one that’s at least SPF 30 with broad-spectrum protection that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and reapply it at least every two hours. We always recommend natural mineral sunscreen over chemical sunscreen for these reasons.
  • Wear a hat. A wide-brimmed hat provides vital shade for your face, scalp, ears, and neck. You can find fashionable and stylish options to match any outfit, so find one that protects you.
  • Wear sun protective clothing when spending extended periods in the sun. Choose clothing made of tightly woven fabrics or with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). Sunglasses are crucial to safeguard your eyes from damaging UV radiation. Opt for styles with UVA/UVB protection and full-coverage wraparound designs for added protection.
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FAQs About Safety of Tanning Beds

Can you safely use a tanning bed?

Despite marketing efforts promoting their “safety,” using tanning beds poses significant risks to your health, even if you are very careful and follow the rules, or only tan on occasion.

Are tanning beds safe in moderation?

Some people believe it’s safe to use tanning beds now and then or think a “base tan” will help protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. No level of indoor tanning is safe; you always risk damaging your skin when exposing yourself to harmful UV rays. This applies even if you use tanning beds in moderation or want a “base tan.” Your risk of developing skin cancers and other issues remains elevated. It is best to avoid tanning beds altogether to ensure you have good health.

Why are tanning beds illegal in Australia?

Recognizing the harmful effects of UV radiation from tanning beds, Australia implemented the Radiation Act 2005, making commercial use of tanning beds illegal nationwide. The aim was to curb the high rates of skin cancer attributed to solariums (tanning beds) and promote sun safety practices among Australians. You can read more about the Radiation Act if you want more detail.

What is a major risk or consequence of using a tanning bed?

A primary and dangerous consequence of tanning bed use is the development of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and, most importantly, melanoma. Melanoma is particularly aggressive and can quickly spread to other parts of the body. Besides this heightened risk of developing these potentially life-threatening cancers, frequent tanning bed use can cause premature aging. That includes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, discoloration like age spots, leathery skin, and potential damage to your eyes, potentially causing eye diseases, some that lead to vision loss.


After examining the research and looking at the increase in skin cancer among young people, I want you to really understand one crucial truth – there’s no safe way to get a tan from UV exposure. Although those bronzed rays may seem tempting, prioritize the long-term safety of your skin over temporary cosmetic effects. Embracing your natural skin color or opting for sunless tanning methods will help you look your best without risking the safety of your skin.

Mick Wadley

Mick Wadley – Founder of Skorcha

After a decade in the scorching sun as a roofer and going door-to-door in sales – I was forced to take my skin health seriously following a skin cancer scare before the age of 30.

So began my passion for suncare, which is both effective and natural. Crafted for adventure and endurance sports, Skorcha formulas are non-greasy, have no eye sting and absolutely no bullshit (100% Organic).

My goal is to share what I’ve learned about skin health and safe ingredients, inspiring happier, healthier lives through adventure, organic goodness and conservation!

Help us plant a mangrove tree with every Skorcha product sold to protect fragile marine ecosystems and support underprivileged communities around the world.

Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for direct, individual medical treatment or advice. It is the responsibility of you and your healthcare providers to make all decisions regarding your health. Skorcha recommends that you consult with your healthcare providers regarding the diagnosis and treatment of any disease or condition.