Are Tanning Beds Safe? No And Here’s Why.

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No matter how splashy and seductive the ads promoting tanning salons may be, artificial tanning machines are not safe, and we at Westchester Health Pediatrics do not recommend them. Tanning beds emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation which is a significant risk factor for skin cancers, including malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. In fact, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

UV radiation can also lead to premature aging of the skin, causing wrinkles, leathery loose skin and brown spots. Taken together, there are a lot of reasons to avoid tanning beds!

Many people think tanning beds are safer than the sun but they’re wrong

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Since tanning beds only emit UVA radiation and the sun emits both UVA and UVB rays, a lot of people think that tanning beds are safer than lying in the sun, but this is false. Numerous studies have shown that UVA rays can also cause skin cancer.

In addition, many tanning beds emit rays that are 10-15 times higher than midday sun exposure and their rays go deeper into the skin, thus increasing the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

Despite the increased cancer risk, nearly 2.3 million teens have used indoor tanning machines

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, what concerns us is the percentage of adolescent girls who use indoor tanning: 20-30 percent. This is particularly bad news because the earlier a person starts tanning and the more times they do it, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer later on.

The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that just one indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning session increases a person’s chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent, according to a major new study.

The news for young people, the main users of tanning machines, is even worse, with those who started tanning before age 35 increasing their risk by almost 90 percent. These figures, based on an exhaustive analysis of 27 studies by the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyons, France, were higher than any previously reported, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Both suntans and sunburns are responses to overexposure to UV radiation

Both are also signs of damage to skin cells. And whether you sustain them indoors or outdoors, both raise your risk for all forms of skin cancer.

To stay safe in the sun, follow these Prevention Guidelines from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • Always use a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher
  • For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Spend time in the shade, especially between 10am and 4pm
  • Do not let your skin burn
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds
  • Cover your skin with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician or a dermatologist every year for a professional skin exam.

If you must have a tan, there is a safer alternative to indoor tanning

Nowadays there are a number of “sunless” tanning products that contain dihydroxyacetone, a chemical that combines with an outer skin protein to cause a reaction that simulates tanning. It is nontoxic, has few side effects and usually will not cause an allergic skin reaction. Be aware, though, that these products do not provide any sunscreen protection from the sun.

To learn more about the dangers of tanning beds

To be as informed as possible about the pros and cons of tanning beds, we thought you might find these websites helpful:

If you’re worried about possible skin damage due to tanning salons, please come see us

If you’re concerned that your child may have damaged her (or his) skin by using tanning beds, make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to see one of our pediatricians. We’ll examine your child’s skin and if we feel a specialist’s evaluation is needed, make a referral to a dermatologist. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball