Tanning beds are a popular way to get a head start on a bronzed summer look or to maintain a summer tan in winter. Many people consider tanned skin to be a healthy look.
But tanned skin is actually a sign of skin damage. Skin exposed to ultraviolet rays produces more melanin, a protective skin-darkening pigment. Over time, this leads to wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity and a greater risk of skin cancer.
Tanning beds use lamps that produce both UV-A and UV-B rays. UV-B rays penetrate the top layer of skin and cause sunburns. UV-A rays penetrate to deeper layers of skin.
Too much exposure to UV rays, whether they come from sunlight or a tanning bed, can lead to skin cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma and ocular melanoma (cancer of the eye). More than a quarter of a million cases of skin cancer every year are attributed to tanning bed use.
Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is linked to severe sunburns, especially at a young age. The risk of melanoma increases when tanning bed use starts before age 35.
Tanning beds are not safer than natural sunlight, and they may be more dangerous. While tanning beds may deliver fewer UV-B rays associated with burning, they provide more concentrated UV-A radiation than the sun, increasing the risk of skin cancers, suppressing the immune system and prematurely aging the skin. UV levels in a tanning bed are concentrated, while UV rays from the sun vary in strength depending on time of day and season of the year.
The Food & Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend limiting UV exposure to natural sunlight and avoiding tanning beds entirely.
When outdoors, use a sunscreen with at least SPF 40 strength on all exposed skin and reapply at least every two hours — more often if swimming or sweating heavily.
If you see any suspicious spots or changes in your skin, have them checked by a dermatologist.