Tanning Beds And Skin Cancer

Summer is coming, and so now I’m starting to see teenage girls coming in abnormally brown. There’s a lockdown, you can’t travel, and it’s Cleveland. I know you’re not laying out in the backyard. If you’re tanned, you’ve been in a tanning bed.

For twenty years I’ve been talking to patients and parents about the dangers of tanning beds. The most important risk (although not the only one) is the link between tanning beds and skin cancer.

The good news is that indoor tanning is becoming less common. Educational and public service programs seem to be raising awareness of the dangers. However, millions of adults still use indoor tanning beds every year, increasing their risk of skin cancer.

Credit: CDC.gov

There is good news about tanning bed use in teens. It is clear from surveys that use among teenagers is going down as well. But it is still obvious that tanning bed use is problematic in young women and teens.

Indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma skin cancer by 15% after only ONE session. Use before age 35 increases the risk by 75%. The damage is cumulative, the more it is used the higher the risk.

If tanning is so dangerous, why do people do it? There is a lot of misinformation about indoor tanning out there. Tanning salons promote questionable health benefits and minimize the risks. Tanning beds often provide very high UV exposure, sometimes as much as 15 times the exposure one would receive from the sun.

One of the misconceptions is that indoor tanning is a “safe” tan. Young women in particular believe that a tanning bed is less dangerous and can provide a “base tan” before being outside in the sun. Research is clear however that the tanning process requires DNA damage. Whether one is tanning indoors or outdoors, it is NOT safe and increases the risk of skin cancer.

The only known benefit of UV exposure is the production of vitamin D in the skin. However, the level of UV exposure received in indoor tanning is complete overkill for vitamin D production. Vitamin D supplements are much safer and more effective for getting to a normal blood level of vitamin D.

Both indoor and outdoor tanning increase the risk of skin cancer, but tanning beds are much more dangerous. Wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and light-weight light-colored clothing, avoiding sun exposure during peak hours and taking a vitamin D supplement is the best approach to protecting your skin AND your health.

QUESTION: Do you use tanning beds?

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2 thoughts on “Tanning Beds And Skin Cancer

  1. Good Morning Dr. Jen,

    No I do not use tanning beds. As a kid though we did go to the pool and I would burn and peel. I do not like to lay out in the sun and cover up when I am outside now. I never seemed to tan anyway.

    I do have a question. I am concerned about the upcoming fall season. I always seem to get either bronchitis that sometimes turns into Pneumonia. With the current state of the virus, I was wondering if you could make a suggestion on how I can become healthier and hopefully avoid getting sick. I know that it may not be possible to avoid it all together but I want to try. Thank you for your time and I always look forward to your topics.

    • Hi Cathryn! I’m sorry it took me a while to get back to you. How to get healthier and avoid getting sick is the point of this blog, right? What would you say is your biggest struggle right now?

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