The Dangers of Indoor Tanning

The Dangers of Indoor Tanning


“But doctor, my teen wants to look healthy and  tanned for his/her prom/party/special event….and this is much safer than the sun!”

A tanning bed is NOT a safe alternative to the sun for teens who want a golden glow

Mason Gomberg MD

Mason Gomberg MD

Tanning beds emit ultraviolet radiation which is a significant risk factor for skin cancers, including malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Mistakenly, many people think tanning beds are safer than the sun since they only emit UVA radiation and the sun emits both UVA and UVB rays. However, 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 adding to a more dangerous condition.

Despite the increased cancer risk, an estimated 28 million people in North America use indoor tanning devices

Nearly 2.3 million teens  have used indoor tanning devices. The prevalence of indoor tanning can be as high as 20-30% of adolescent girls. Worryingly, this will increase the risk of melanoma later in life by 50-70%.

The earlier a person starts tanning and the more tanning that is done, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer later in life

One group of researchers concluded that as few as 4 tanning session per year could lead to an 11% increase in the risk of developing melanoma.

Another significant adverse effect of indoor tanning is photoaging, which is when a person’s skin looks radically older than they really are because of cell damage. No one wants to look like they’re 60 or 70 when they’re in their 30s!

There is a safer alternative to indoor tanning if an adolescent must have a tanned appearance

There are 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. A word of caution: Although these products produce a simulated tan, they do not provide any photo protection from the sun (like a “base tan” would). Another negative to sunless tanners is that they can produce an uneven or blotchy tan, especially in the thicker skin areas such as palms, knees and elbows.

Parents are the strongest encouragers and discouragers of teenage indoor tanning

Two of the strongest predictions of teenage indoor tanning are 1) permissive attitudes by parents and 2) the use of these devices by parents themselves. Hopefully, this article can help educate both parents and teens to the dangers of indoor tanning so that everyone can lead a healthier and safer life.

 By Mason Gomberg, MD, Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball