Forget going under the knife – let’s talk about the dangers of going under the tanning table. Ironically, while most people associate a warm, bronze tan with health and vitality, a tan is a visible sign of skin cell damage. When you tan your body is producing more melanin, which is the pigment responsible for skin darkening. But in order to aid the production of increased melanin, you must expose your sensitive skin to intense bursts of UV radiation, either from the sun or from a tanning lamp. Exposure to harmful UVA and UVB rays can cause a whole host of skin problems, including wrinkles, saggy or leathery skin, and brown spots. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation can even cause immune suppression, eye damage, and cataracts.
And while the physical effects of tanning are daunting, the deadliest risk by far is the increased risk for developing skin cancer. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, as many as 90% of melanomas are caused by UV radiation exposure, and melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for people between the ages of 15 – 29. Not only does tanning – whether via natural or artificial means – increase your chances of developing skin cancers such as melanomas, squamous cell, and basal cell carcinomas, but it also increases the chance that a benign mole will progress to cancer.
Per the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), tanning beds are classified at the highest risk level and are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. UV radiation exposure is as harmful for you as radium and plutonium exposure, two other elements classified at the highest risk level for causing cancer. In fact, multiple studies have concluded that using a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases your risk for developing skin cancer by 75%. And that is only at your first tanning session – the risk increases with each session you undergo.
- Tanning provides a healthy dose of Vitamin D. False – it provides a healthy dose of ultraviolet radiation in the form of UVA and UVB waves. Exposure to UVB waves synthesizes Vitamin D, but the risk of leaving your skin bare to harmful radiation outweighs any beneficial vitamins it might absorb from the sun or a tanning lamp. Ingesting your Vitamin D via food or a supplement is healthier and less harmful to your body.
- A “base tan” provides skin protection before going outside. False – a base tan ensures only minimal sunburn protection and is comparable to applying SPF 2-4 sunscreen. The minimal SPF recommended for skin protection is SPF 15. Any form of tan is already a sign of skin cell damage, and a base tan will not protect you from sustaining further damage from natural sunlight.
- Indoor tanning is safer than outdoor tanning. False – using an indoor method is equally dangerous, if not more so, than building a natural tan via the sun. Tanning beds subject your skin to an unwavering, intense treatment of ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to your body soaking up more UV exposure than it would while catching a few rays.
Like other cancer-causing habits such as tobacco, tanning can be addictive because it releases feel-good endorphins in the “reward” section of the brain. And you should treat it the way you would any other addictive behavior: Avoid the temptation, because a habit is much harder to break once it is established. Instead, take care of the natural skin you have; you don’t need the sun in order to shine.