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Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays

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“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.

FDA believes that limiting sun exposure and using sunscreen or sunblock are particularly important for children since these measures can prevent sunburn at a young age.

NCI reports that women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop melanoma. Teenage girls and young women make up a growing number of tanning bed customers.

“Young people may not think they are vulnerable to skin cancer,” says Kaczmarek. “They have difficulty thinking about their own mortality.” Yet of the more than 68,000 people in the United States who will learn they have melanoma this year, one out of eight will die from it, according to NCI estimates. In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology reports that melanoma is the second most common cancer in women 20 to 29 years old.

Some states are considering laws to ban those under age 18 from using tanning beds. And many states now have laws that require minors to have a parent’s consent or be accompanied by a parent to the tanning facility.

FDA’s current performance standard requires that a sunlamp product’s label include a recommended exposure schedule. FDA has advised manufacturers that this schedule should provide for exposures of no more than three sessions in the first week.