Consider the notion of a tanning bed being safer than sun exposure, a complete fallacy, an urban myth, an untruth spread by the tanning bed companies, consider . . . never using one again. As cosmetic surgeons, we are constantly asked about the safety of tanning beds, even though more than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Despite knowing this fact, thousands of people – most of them young women – continue visiting tanning salons on a regular basis.
Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer. 90% of all these skin cancers can be traced to UVA exposure. Unfortunately, the UVA rays emitted in a tanning bed are two to three times more powerful than the UVA rays that are emitted by the sun. While long term exposure to the UVA rays of the sun can lead to eye damage, premature skin aging, and skin cancers; the damage from a tanning bed can be even more horrendous.
According to researchers at the University of California – San Francisco, indoor tanning beds cause over 170,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States every year. Up to 70% of indoor tanners are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma before they reach their fortieth birthday. Women are more likely than men to experience the carcinogenic effects of tanning beds, perhaps because they use them more than males. While anyone can develop skin cancer, there is a higher risk to patients who have fair skin, burn easily, or have light colored hair. Tanning booths are also the cause of dangerous drug reactions, due to the intense UVA exposure. These skin reactions occur with several photosensitive medications, and can result in anything from excess redness and peeling, to painful exfoliation of the skin. Sometimes these reactions may be treated with topical steroids, while others are so severe they require hospitalization.
On the horizon, new government legislations hope to better regulate the industry, and even discourage usage of the indoor tanning beds completely. The Affordable Care Act includes a whopping 10% Tanning Tax. California has banned teenagers, under the age of 18, from using tanning beds; and New York has begun a similar ban on teens and tanning salons. No matter the law, the bottom line for everyone – no matter their age – is to avoid the unnecessary risk of skin cancer, by abstaining from all contact with tanning beds.