Indoor tanning is a big business. It's also a harmful practice that increases the risk of skin cancer.
On a typical day, more than 1 million Americans go to tanning salons. About 70 percent of people who use indoor tanning are girls and young women, mostly between the ages of 16 and 29.
People who go to tanning salons may be seeking a healthy-looking tan, but they are actually causing unhealthy changes to their skin. Like real sunlight, indoor tanning equipment gives off harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, both of which increase the risk of skin cancer and other skin problems. The amount of ultraviolet radiation that people are exposed to during indoor tanning is similar to or even greater than the amount they would be exposed to when they are out in the sun for a similar length of time.
Scientific studies have linked indoor tanning to increased risks of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The increase in cancer risk is greatest in people who began using indoor tanning equipment as teenagers. Besides increasing the risk of skin cancer, exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can also promote skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage. These are the same kinds of harmful effects that can also result from overexposure to the sun.
Myths about Indoor Tanning
Some people think that indoor tanning is safer than sunbathing because "controlled" tanning may help prevent melanoma by increasing levels of the protective dark pigment melanin in the skin, thus reducing the risk of sunburn. However, medical experts say that this argument is not valid. Tanning, like burning, damages the genetic material of skin cells. You can't protect your skin by damaging it. And studies have shown that indoor tanning increases, rather than decreases, the likelihood of developing melanoma.
Another rationale that people sometimes give for indoor tanning is that it helps the skin to produce healthful vitamin D, which can reduce the risks of several diseases, including some types of cancer.
Vitamin D is indeed healthful, but exposing the skin to the ultraviolet light is only one way of getting it. You can also get vitamin D from foods, such as vitamin D-fortified milk, or from vitamin supplements. Getting vitamin D from foods or supplements is safer than getting it by exposing your skin to harmful UV rays from the sun or from indoor tanning equipment.