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Infections From the Use of Tanning Beds

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/12/2011

Despite its dangers to our health, the tanning salon business is still booming. Many people are unaware that indoor tanning risks go beyond wrinkled skin and cancer. Learn about the spread of infections from tanning beds and how to avoid being a victim.

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    Despite well-publicized health issues with tanning beds, tanning trade publications report that the tanning business is a $2 billion per year industry in the United States. Most people don’t realize that skin cancer and premature aging are not the only dangers of indoor tanning. Most people are unaware of the serious infections from tanning beds that they can contract, including MRSA and HPV.

    MRSA (staphylococcus aureus bacteria ) or staph is often associated with hospital stays where some patients contract it with devastating results. Staph is sometimes resistant to antibiotic treatment and can lead to loss of limbs and even death.

    HPV (human papillomavirus) manifests itself as warts on the skin of the genitals or elsewhere on the body. HPV outbreaks are unsightly and often painful to treat. HPV can be treated but not cured. Physicians are in disagreement over whether HPV can be spread from contact with sweat on a tanning bed.

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    Tanning Bed Function

    Tanning beds contain bulbs emitting high-intensity ultra-violet A and ultra-violet B rays which cause similar effects to sunlight on your body. The UVB rays stimulate the melanin (or pigment) production in your skin’s outer layer. The UVA rays then oxidize the melanin helping to darken the skin. This radiation is also known to cause sunburn, rash, premature aging, increased the risk of skin cancer and may even weaken the immune system.

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    History and Regulation

    Tanning beds were invented in the 1970s and soared to popularity in the ‘80s. The US government began to regulate them in 1988. When it was revealed that indoor tanning might cause skin cancer like natural sunlight, regulations were updated in 1999. These rules controlled tanning bed maximum session duration and use of protective sunscreen lotions to help protect consumers. Most states inspect salons for cleanliness and proper procedures and require them to post a certificate. Of course this is not guarantee that they are germ-free.

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    How Infections Spread

    Staph is passed from one person to another via skin contact. Touching your eyes, nose or mouth after touching someone that is infected, or a surface they recently touched, will spread the infection. A person may have staph germs on their skin without being sick themselves. HPV requires contact with bodily fluids such as sweat or warts to spread. A person with a compromised immune system due to a chronic illness, anyone with an open cut in their skin, pregnant women and senior citizens may be especially susceptible to picking up MRSA or HPV.

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    Symptoms

    After tanning at a salon, if a rash or wound that looks like a bug bite appears that is warm to the touch and painful, there may be cause for concern. Other symptoms, such as high fever, vomiting, fatigue or malaise (a general feeling of being unwell), may accompany the injury. It’s best to see the doctor immediately, since staph spreads very quickly.

    Your doctor will take a culture of the inflamed area and send it to the lab for analysis. Antibiotics will be prescribed if necessary. Staph is not always a grave condition; in fact some infections may go away on their own. It must be carefully monitored, however, because any turn for the worse will progress extremely quickly.

    The appearance of warts may be a signal of HPV of one type or another and warrants a doctor visit as well. Warts may be flat or bumpy raised areas or sores on the genitals, hands, feet, elbows or knees. They may be accompanied by swelling, itching or pain. Some warts cause no discomfort at all. Even if symptoms and warts disappear, the virus is still present in your body. Treatment may involve freezing warts off with liquid nitrogen or using salicylic acid. Warts may also be burned off (cauterization) or removed surgically.

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    Prevention

    • Don’t use a tanning bed at all – pale skin can be beautiful and it is certainly healthier.
    • Do not tan if you are taking medications such as Accutane that increase sun sensitivity.
    • Do not go if pregnant – any infection you get would be bad for the baby as well.
    • Do not use a tanning bed if you have open cuts or scratches on your skin, which allow viruses to easily enter. At the very least wear a bandage over the cut.
    • Check for recent inspection certificate, although this is no guarantee your visit will be safe.
    • Clean the tanning bed yourself before using it, with disinfectant and paper towels.
    • Make sure to use clean towels at tanning salons, swimming pools, gyms or other public places.
    • Don’t use the salon eye protection, buy your own. At least be certain to wipe provided eye coverings with disinfectant.
    • Opt for the type of tanning bed that you stand up in or get a spray-on tan.
    • Use the disinfectant when finished with the tanning bed to prevent any bacteria that you may be carrying from affecting the next person who uses it. Remember anyone can be a carrier.
    • Shower right after tanning, at home if possible. If not, be sure you are given clean towels and wear shower shoes in the salon shower area.