Tanning Salons and Indoor Tanning

There is no such thing as a “safe tan”.

Ultraviolet radiation (the light that shines in tanning beds) is a proven human carcinogen.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.

In Britian, France, Germany, Austria, and Finland tanning is banned for those under 18. In 2009, Brazil banned all indoor cosmetic tanning. Yet in the USA, 28 million people are using tanning salons each year, 3 million per day including minors, with the number of available salons more than the number of Starbucks or McDonalds stores.

Tanning bed use has been shown to cause about 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. in 2014. Users of indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning equipment are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who don’t tan indoors. People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than those who don’t. Over the long term, ultraviolet radiation causes increased wrinkling, thinning of the skin, increased age spots and DNA damage. Excess exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can also lead to immune system suppression and eye damage. Each year, emergency rooms treat thousands who are burned at these salons. Some fatalities have occurred, too. There are very few cancers that are tightly linked to substances or environmental agents, yet use of tanning salons is legal even for minors in many states.

Until recently, the US FDA regulated tanning beds as Class I medical devices, the same designation given elastic bandages and tongue depressors. In May, 2014, the federal agency issued an order to reclassify sunlamps and other UV tanning devises as Class II devices (moderate to high risk), putting them in the same class as other radiation-emitting devices such as X-ray machines and CT scans. “The change is due to concerns that the effects of UV radiation add up over time, and children and teenagers who are exposed to indoor UV radiation are at greater risk for skin and eye damage,” according to an FDA release. With about 10% of Americans visiting a tanning salon, it is estimated that the tanning industry takes in over $5 billion each year. There’s a lot of money being made by selling exposure to this carcinogenic radiation. So far, only 28 states restrict use of tanning salons to minors.


Ten states have passed tanning bed bans for children under 18: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.


Q: Does use of a tanning salon before a vacation provide protection from sunburn?

A: Most tanning salons use a majority of UVA rays. Tanning in this way provides an equivalent SPF of 1.3. That means more than 75% of UV radiation is not blocked with such a tan. By comparison, sunscreen with a recommended SPF 30 blocks all but about 3%. Use of tanning salons correlates with increased chance of getting all three types of skin cancer, DNA damage, wrinkling, thinning of the skin, etc. It’s not a good way to protect from burning.

Q: Do tans from salons make you look better?

A: Different people have different opinions about whether tanned skin looks nicer or not. But most people agree that fragile, wrinkling, aged skin with unwanted brown spots is unattractive. Those are just some of the long term prices you pay for long term use of tanning salons or tanning beds.

Q: Then why do people go to tanning salons?

A: New studies are looking into this. One showed that 40% of tanners surveyed were introduced to the salons by their mothers! These tanners were 4 times more likely to become “heavy tanners”, going to salons more than 25 times per year. Other studies are investigating the possibility that indoor tanning can be addictive. One such study recently released showed over 30% of indoor tanners had standard psychological symptoms of addictive behavior, analogous to alcohol or drug addiction.

Q: Are tanning salons good for getting Vitamin D?

A: There are many (sometimes uncontrollable) variables involved in using the Sun or tanning beds to get Vitamin D, including the quantity of skin exposed, the darkness or pigmentation of that skin, the wavelength or energy of the source, and the degree of one’s vitamin D deficiency. It is difficult to consume sufficient vitamin D from typical foods, but oral supplements and intermittent testing of blood levels would appear to be significantly more effective than tanning, and without the risk of cancer.