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Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays

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IARC’s review had some limitations, says Ron Kaczmarek, M.D., M.P.H., an FDA epidemiologist who analyzed the review. Limitations include possible inaccuracy of people’s memories of their tanning experiences, not knowing the amount of UV radiation emitted by each tanning device, and the inability to separate the effects of individuals’ indoor and outdoor exposure. Nevertheless, IARC concluded that there is convincing evidence of an association between the use of indoor tanning equipment and melanoma risk, and that the use of tanning beds should be discouraged.

“It’s well established that UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer,” says Miller. “Since lamps used in tanning beds emit UV radiation, the use of indoor tanning devices also increases your risk of skin cancer.”

Other Risks

In addition to the serious risk of skin cancer, tanning can cause:

  • Premature aging. Tanning causes the skin to lose elasticity and wrinkle prematurely. This leathery look may not show up until many years after you’ve had a tan or sunburn.
  • Immune suppression. UV-B radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, leaving you more vulnerable to diseases, including skin cancer.
  • Eye damage. Exposure to UV radiation can cause irreversible damage to the eyes.
  • Allergic reaction. Some people who are especially sensitive to UV radiation may develop an itchy red rash and other adverse effects.

Advocates of tanning devices sometimes argue that using these devices is less dangerous than sun tanning because the intensity of UV radiation and the time spent tanning can be controlled. But there is no evidence to support these claims. In fact, sunlamps may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same high intensity every day of the year—unlike the sun whose intensity varies with the time of day, the season, and cloud cover.

Tanning in Children and Teens

FDA is particularly concerned about children and teens being exposed to UV rays. Intermittent exposures to intense UV radiation leading to sunburns, especially in childhood and teen years, increase the risk of melanoma, according to NCI.