Getting a tan for cosmetic purposes has become increasingly popular since the 1980s. This has been accompanied by a large rise in the use of indoor tanning. Indoor tanning equipment (e.g., beds, booths and lamps) emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Like UV radiation in sunlight, a tanning bed’s UV stimulates the skin to release a pigment called melanin. Melanin absorbs the UV, causing the skin to darken. Tanning is the body’s protective response against injury to the skin from UV exposure. For more information, see Health Impacts of Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation.
According to the National Sun Survey, “young adults are the most likely to try to get a tan, either from the sun or by using tanning equipment.” Indoor tanning is more common among young women than young men and older adults, with 27% of young women (ages 16-24) using tanning equipment.
For these reasons, British Columbia has banned young people under the age of 18 from using tanning equipment, to reduce the chances of developing skin cancer later in life.
The Facts about Indoor Tanning
There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan.
The World Health Organization has determined that UV radiation from indoor tanning equipment is a proven carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Young people are especially vulnerable to developing skin cancer later in life as a result of UV exposure. The World Health Organization has found that the risk of melanoma – the most serious skin cancer – increases by 75% when tanning bed use starts before 35 years of age.
The Canadian Cancer Society states on its melanoma website that “based on 2009 estimates:
- About 1 in 59 Canadian men is expected to develop melanoma during his lifetime and 1 in 240 will die from it.
- About 1 in 73 Canadian women is expected to develop melanoma during her lifetime and 1 in 395 will die from it.
Indoor tanning cannot give you a protective base tan.
Although a base tan may produce some natural protection against the sun’s UV radiation, an indoor tan offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of about only 2-3, which is not adequate sun protection. In addition, a base tan is created only at the expense of further skin damage. An SPF of 30 is the minimum sunscreen recommended. Most dermatologists recommend even higher SPFs.
Indoor tanning is not a healthy, “natural” way to produce vitamin D in the body.
It is true that Canadians need vitamin D supplementation for bone health. Due to the lack of outdoor UV exposure in our northern winters, our bodies cannot manufacture vitamin D for more than half of the year. However, there are safer ways to produce vitamin D than exposing yourself to UV radiation.
Health Canada recommends a daily intake of 600 IU of vitamin D for people from nine to 70 years of age. Milk has 100 IU of vitamin D per glass, salmon 400 IU per 4 ounces, and cod liver oil 1300 IU per tbsp. A 1000 IU vitamin D3 tablet costs less than 1 cent per day. For more information, see Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes (Health Canada).
Indoor tanning does not help people suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder can be effective in treating seasonal affective disorder, but not the light that comes from tanning beds. Light therapy requires either bright-white light with various visible-light wavelengths or blue light with a wavelength of about 460 nm. The UV light from tanning beds has wavelengths of 400 nm and below. View Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation to learn about the light spectrum and wavelengths and how they affect us.