Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Tanning Bad For You?

Also Known As: sun tanning, tanning beds



Short answer

Tanning is bad beyond words. It is a cancer-causing practice driven by a desire to fit unrealistic and unhealthy standards of beauty.



Long answer

Tanning is yet another example of how twisted standards of beauty cause millions of people to die prematurely. It should be noted that tanning is mostly prevalent among people with lighter skin. In Asia, for example, skin whitening products are far more popular than tanning. Disturbingly, a poll conducted in the USA found that over 60% of teens thought that a tan made them look healthier and more attractive. A tan is not a sign of good health, though. It is a sign of damage to your skin's DNA. 

People use two sources for tanning - natural sunlight or the tanning bed. We will get to the differences shortly, but both rely on UV rays - particularly UVA and UVB rays (UVC, which are the shortest, do not factor in). UVA rays are responsible for actually making the skin tan by penetrating deep into the skin, while UVB rays, which are shorter in length, are responsible for causing superficial skin damage such as sunburns. It was long thought that the primary danger came from UVB rays, but since the 1980s, we have known that UVA rays also contribute to an increased risk of various forms of skin cancer and are the main cause of premature skin aging. One frightening statistic is that about 3.5 million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States each year with another 70,000 diagnosed with melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer in which the melanocytes are infected with cancer). 

There are three myths circulating that need to be addressed: 1). tanning beds are safer, 2). a base tan will provide better protection against harmful UV rays and 3). going for a tan is a good way to get vitamin D. 

Tanning beds are in no way safer than exposure to natural sunlight - in fact, the opposite is true. Tanning beds provide about triple the intensity of UVA rays as natural sunlight and in more concentrated bursts. This leads to faster mutations. In 2002, the National Cancer Institute found that people who used an indoor tanning device were 50% more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma and had more than a 100% increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Furthermore, an analysis done on 19 studies of indoor tanning in 2007 found that people who started indoor tanning before the age of 35 were at a 75% greater risk of developing melanoma.  A base tan - besides being damaging to the cells' DNA - is pointless. According to research, it offers - at best- protection equivalent to an SPF 4 sunscreen. 

As for vitamin D - it is true that sunshine helps produce vitamin D, but there's no reason to go tanning to get this important nutrient. Just being out in the sun for a few minutes is usually enough. Furthermore, vitamin D is present in much of what we eat and drink.

The fact is, tanning - whether done indoors or out in the sun - greatly increases the risk of cancer. There is nothing healthy about it - and though it may provide you with some vitamin D, that vitamin D won't help you very much against skin cancer, photoaging, and other skin problems caused by UV rays.

Possible short-term side effects

  • dna damage in skin cells
  • damage to melanocytes

Possible long-term side effects

  • photoaging (premature aging)
  • melanoma
  • non-melanoma skin cancer

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Written by Jeff Volling | 01-09-2016

Written by Jeff Volling
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