Most skin cancers are caused by harmful UV radiation, which we encounter from the sun or if you tan indoors using a tanning bed. There are two types of UV radiation that can reach the skin, UVA, and UVB. Understanding the differences between them will explain why a tanning bed is not safer than the sun.
Sunlamps in tanning beds emit UVA radiation. UVA radiation causes the skin to darken or tan whereas UVB causes the skin to burn. The problem is, UVA rays penetrate to deeper skin layers than do UVB rays and therefore are a major cause of cell DNA damage and mutations which lead to skin cancer, skin aging, and dark skin spots. UVB rays in addition to burning the skin, can also lead to skin cancer and aging but since they do not penetrate as deeply as UVA rays into the dermis, causing a bit less damage.
Does Light Intensity and Time Control Make a Difference?
Some experts argue that artificial tanning is less dangerous because the intensity of light and the time spent tanning in beds are controlled. There is limited evidence to support these claims. On the other hand, tanning beds may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same intensity every day of the year — something that is unlikely for the sun because of winter weather and cloud cover. They can also be more dangerous because people can expose their entire bodies at each session, which would be difficult to do outdoors.
I don’t recommend it, but if you use indoor tanning equipment, follow these steps to reduce the dangers of UV exposure:
- Wear the goggles provided. Make sure they are in good repair with no cracks. They should fit snugly (UV radiation can cause eye burns and cancer).
- Start slowly and use short exposure times to build up a tan over time. Using the maximum exposure time the first visit can lead to a burn and sunburns lead to an increased risk of melanoma.
- Follow manufacturer-recommended exposure times on the label for your skin type.
- Stick to your time limit.
- After a tan is developed, tan no more than once a week.
- Know that even ONE tanning bed session before the age of 35 DOUBLES your risk for developing MELANOMA, a skin cancer that can be deadly.
– Colleen Andrijiw, PA-C