Indoor Tanning Dangers: Facts and Myths

Before you begin any tanning regimen, you need to know fact from fiction.

My tanning salon says beds are safer than the sun. Is that true?
Perhaps the greatest danger associated with indoor tanning is that people exceed approved limits and tan with the highest level beds from the very beginning. Tanning beds actually emit 3-15 times more ultraviolet (UV) rays than the sun does in summer.

Tanning lotions protect my skin, right?
The lotions sold in tanning salons do not filter the sun’s rays. In fact, just the opposite is true. Indoor tanning lotions are designed to accelerate your skin’s browning process. They contain moisturizers and colorants like, carrot oil and DHA (the active ingredient in self-tanners). Using a tanning lotion under the assumption that it will block harmful UV radiation or protect you from developing skin cancer can be very dangerous.

Can I get an STD from a tanning bed?
No. Bacteria and viruses cannot survive on tanning beds. The UV rays are effective at killing them; however, some people might develop a rash from the chemicals used to clean the beds. Also, certain medications are known to be affected by UV light, and this reaction may result in skin irritation.

Can a healthy tan protect me?IndoorTanningDangers
When your skin produces melanin, the cells are actually attempting to block damaging ultraviolet rays. Your skin type determines how deeply you can tan, but most tans only equate to a level 2 or 3 sun protectant factor. To put that in perspective, the FDA recommends no less than an SPF 15. If your goal is total protection, do not rely on merely a suntan.

I hardly ever burn. That means I won’t get skin cancer, right?
You may tan easily, but UV rays can still damage your skin. The changes to your skin add up over your lifetime, so it can be hard to detect damage until it’s already too late. Ease of tanning isn’t the only thing to consider. The number of moles or dark freckles you develop can also increase your risk for melanoma. Your family history should also be accounted for in your tanning regimen.

Are sunless tanning lotions really safe?
Yes. Sunless tanning products are a safe alternative. They contain DHA (dihydroxyacetone), which colors the top layer of skin. This layer is made up of mostly dead cells that you shed every four or five days.

My friend says her doctor told her to go to a tanning salon. Is she lying?
Some medical conditions like eczema and psoriasis can be treated with UV rays. The treatment is completely controlled by a doctor or trained technician and exposure is limited by the doctor’s orders. Most indoor tanning not monitored this strictly, so be careful.

If I tan in a bed before my beach vacation, will I burn?
Even if you already have a tan, you can still burn. People with lighter skin, hair and eyes have fewer natural defenses against the sun’s rays.

10 comments... leave yours here.
  1. Jim says:

    Good article, and thanks for the straightfoward info. It really is unfortunate that there’s a downside to tanning because personally it helps with my acne a lot, on my face and my back. Going in a bed about once a week and using a good lotion has helped clear my skin a lot so I just try to moderate it as much as I can and only go to the salon when necessary.

  2. Laura DIckerson says:

    Tanning beds against outdoor sun. I am a prime example of a person who would prefer to tan in the tanning bed then outdoors. I never went to a tanning bed due to everything that i was told about the dangers of them. I was the one laying out for hours trying to get tan. My first few times in the sun i would wear a low level of spf, and then it was full no sunscreen. Well i found out that i had 3 spots of sun cancer from doing this. I had them removed but now these spots will never tan again. I was told by my Dr that tanning beds are actually better for you then the out door sun with the right lotion and you must start off slow then gradually increase the minutes each time. I was amazed. I have been going to the tanning bed now for 5 yrs and no issues with my skin or anything.. Please don’t let people talk you away from tanning beds. Get all the facts first and yes, take your time increasing your minutes and you will wind up with a safe and beautiful tan.

  3. Abbey Jennings says:

    surprisingly, i’m one of the few rarities that doesn’t put lotion on at first. before i get my base tan (which takes about a week of laying out, since i’m naturally super pale), i just lay out without any lotion on. i may burn a little, but i’d burn much more with lotion on. somehow the lotion on my fair skin soaks up the sun rays and burns my skin to no end. once i get a base tan though, i use plenty of lotion. i’ve yet to find a lotion or oil that i truly love, and considering my price range isn’t going over $20 per bottle right now, i’ll have to just stick with hawaiian tropic.

  4. Kendra Masterson says:

    I am fair skinned and put tanning lotion on every time I tan indoors. I follow the 5-7 mins starting rule. I don’t seem to burn as easily as i used to. I use Hempz Dark Tanning Lotion right now its expensive but i love it. I can sometimes get away with only tanning 3 days and have a gorgeous even tan. I love it! Although you can only get it through a salon, thank god my moms a hair dresser. I don’t tan that often but when i do i don’t spend a lot since this lotion gets me so dark.

  5. Sandra says:

    I am very fair skinned and have never tanned outdoors successfully. I use tanning lotion every time I tan and have this year the best tan I have ever had! Indoor tanning can be relaxing.

  6. Rebekah says:

    I have used a tanning bed off and on for the last ten years. My sister insists that I will get skin cancer from burning just one time. I find tanning to be a very relaxing activity and I am always aware of how long I am in the bed for and get out if I feel as though I might burn. I must say this article was helpful, there are so many different thoughts about tanning.

  7. Julie says:

    This is very good information. I have heard many times of people going to the tanning bed before going on a beach vacation. I have known a few people that developed skin cancer and admit to frequent sunbathing in their younger years. However, I don’t know anyone that has visited tanning salons and developed skin cancer. I’m not saying it does not happen. I think just like everything else, moderation is the key. I find laying in the tanning bed is very relaxing and helps protect me from stress related illness. I think I look healthier with a nice glow. I only tan in the summer months. I have family members that own their own tanning bed and tan year round. They actually tan to excess and it doesn’t look very good. I certainly don’t want to look as leathery as they do, but I am not very concerned about getting skin cancer. I do use moisturizers and antioxidants. I also drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

  8. Nidah says:

    I just recently started tanning. At first I was a bit hesitant regarding tanning, this was mainly because of my fear of getting cancer. However as I continued to research and become more educated on the topic and its effects i decided to give it a try. So far I have tanned about four times in total. For the first couple of times I didn’t use any lotion and so I burned, and my skin began to peel like crazy. After all the peeling went away I noticed my skin looked healthier and had this amazing glow to it. This article was very helpful and answered many of the questions I had and got explained some of the myths of tanning.

  9. Diana N says:

    They seem to have forgotten to mention that the sun is also a natural source of Vitamin D. While you can never get a sufficient amount Vitamin D from the sun to justify spending hours and hours in it, it is still a positive thing that we get from the sun. They make it sound as if we should only go to the beach in long pants, turtle-neck sweaters and ski masks. Lets face it…. this is totally not even reasonable. Having a tan makes me feel younger, more beautiful, healthier and more vibrant. I love going to the tanning salon. The key is being smart about it. As adults we have to remember that just like everything else out there, we can’t abuse it! Some people do and will have difficulty with this. But not everyone is an addict in this world. Tanning is beneficial for me and always will be. It gives me confidence and makes me feel better about myself. I feel like I have a “healthy glow”. I take care not to burn. First of all… it hurts. It is very unpleasant and uncomfortable. I will go to great lengths to avoid getting a sunburn. I do tan easily both in the sun and in the salon. I don’t really worry about getting skin cancer. I guess if you think about it, we can get cancer just by breathing. I refuse to live in a bubble. I want to live life every day. And I want to feel good doing it. And tanning feels good.

  10. Lisa says:

    People under age 35 who do indoor tanning frequently are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma. It happens. My 22-year-old daughter has the scars to prove it.

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