Facts About Skin Cancer and Tanning Beds

Facts About Skin Cancer and Tanning Beds
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Perhaps you have spent a fair amount of time in the past “soaking in the rays” at the beach, but have become concerned about increased skin cancer risks. Now you wonder if tanning beds are a safer alternative. You may still enjoy having the so-called “healthy glow” of a tan, but perhaps you haven’t researched the facts about skin cancer and tanning beds. Before making the decision to add regular tanning to your schedule, take time to explore the potential correlation between tanning beds and cancer.


[Image Permission: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net ].

…or tanning bed?

Tanning Bed without lights turned on.

[Image Permission: Tanning Bed - Creative Commons at Wikipedia].

How Tanning Beds Work

Tanning beds use elongated ultraviolet (UV) bulbs to simulate the action of outdoor sun exposure, causing skin to tan. While sunlight emits UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, tanning beds use only UVA rays. Tanning occurs when melanocyte cells produce melanin, the brown pigment that darkens the skin cells, resulting in a “tan.”[1]

Skin Cancer Risks

Numerous reports from medical professionals and organizations confirm the link between use of tanning beds and skin cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both warn that exposure to the UVA rays in tanning beds is just as dangerous as sun exposure to both UVA and UVB rays. Regardless of the sources of UV exposure, you increase your risk of eventually developing skin cancer.

Even more sobering, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in fact labeled sunlamps as a carcinogen. All these organizations and more, including the American Cancer Society, highly recommend that people never use tanning beds.[2]

Furthermore, in a report from Tranh et al. (2008) cited at the Health Physics Society, you increase your chance of developing melanoma by as much as 75 percent if you start using tanning beds before the age of 30.[3]

The “Other Side” of the Story

Of course, the other side of the story derives from those in the industry who promote use of tanning beds. For obvious reasons, salon and spa owners prefer to encourage people to continue using tanning beds. In fact, according to a report at the Skin Cancer Foundation, salon owners maintain that there are two reasons tanning beds are still safer than tanning at the beach or any location outdoors:

  1. Tanning beds use UVA rays instead of UVB rays.
  2. Tanning beds “control” UV exposure, whereas nobody can control outdoor sun exposure, other than time spent outside and proper use of sunscreen and/or sunblock.[4]

Unfortunately, as previously discussed, even UVA rays are dangerous, and some salons exceed the “safe” UV levels established by the FDA. [5] [6]


Tanning, whether at the beach or in a tanning bed, is obviously a personal decision. It would be in your best interest, however, to review the medical reports and talk to your doctor or a dermatologist to fully understand the facts about skin cancer and tanning beds. Most researchers, medical professionals, and health organizations maintain that “there is no such thing as a safe tan.”[7]


[1][4][6][7] Skin Cancer Foundation. The Dangers of Tanning. Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/the-dangers-of-tanning.html

[2][3][5] Health Physics Society. Tanning Salons. Retrieved from https://hps.org/documents/tanning_salons_fact_sheet.pdf