Tanning Beds Increase Melanoma Risk

By Marie Parks

In the summer months, it is not an uncommon sight to see people lying outside by their pools, at the beach, or wherever they can catch some rays to obtain the perfect tan. However, during those colder and less sunny months, many people choose to maintain their summer glow by visiting tanning booths. Unfortunately, this decision to enter into a tanning bed could have dire consequences.

Tanning Beds and Cancer

Looking like you’ve just returned from a vacation in the tropics may be desirable to most of us, but it comes with long-term skin cancer risks. If you’re a “tanning booth enthusiast” you may not want to hear this, but it’s pretty straightforward: Tanning beds are dangerous.

A study done by Lazovich et al. (2010) showed that individuals who tan indoor are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. 1 Based on the fact that melanoma rates have been increasing for the last 30 years, the American Cancer Society has estimated that about 76,250 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2012. 2

Are There Safe Tanning Beds?

Some tanning bed companies claim that their tanning beds are ‘safer’ because they use UVA instead of UVB rays. UVB rays are shorter wave than UVA and are more associated with causing skin cancers. However, since UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, they cause damage to collagen which gives our skin its elasticity.

Therefore, UVA rays can promote skin aging by causing wrinkles and a leathery appearance. Further research in this area has also shown that UVA rays can damage melanocytes (skin cells that produce pigment) resulting in malignant melanoma, the form of skin cancer which has shown to be most deadly.

So, in summary no — there aren’t any “safe” tanning beds. Avoid them all.

UV Exposure Adds Up

Exposing yourself to excessive UV rays through indoor tanning is under your direct, conscious control. However, we’re all exposed to UV rays just by going about our daily lives when we go outside. Even if you’re not outside for a prolonged period of time, the brief exposure to UV rays can add up.

This is why it’s important to take measures to protect yourself, such as applying sunscreen. It is almost equally important to look at the label of the sunscreen you choose. Many sunscreens include only ingredients to protect against UVB rays (which are more likely to result in sunburn).

However, only certain ingredients also provide protection from UVA rays, such as zinc oxide, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. You can read more about sunscreens in the following articles:

  • The Sunscreen Paradox
  • What’s Missing from Your Sunscreen?

Sunless Tanning Products are on the Rise

There are alternatives to indoor and outdoor tanning. Sunless tanning products are available in the form of creams, gels, lotions, and sprays. Dihydroxyacetone is the active ingredient in these products. While these products do not provide UV radiation, the long-term risks of dihydroxyacetone are currently unknown. 3

Appreciate the natural color of your skin and you are more likely to be rewarded with better looking skin and good health for many years.

By the way, we have a great healthy skin protocol. It’s jammed packed with all sorts of great suggestions for healthy looking skin in and out of the sun. Check it out; your skin will love you for it!


  1. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Jun;19(6):1557-68. Epub 2010 May 26.
  2. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2012.
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sunless-tanning/SN00037


Anonymous said...

For the past three years (since I found out I was severely deficient in vitamin D) I've made an effort to lie in the sun for around 20 minutes between 11 and 2. I've read that UVA/UVB are not what cause melanoma and that vitamin D deficiency can lead to that and many other cancers. I understand that a sunburn would damage the skin but I would not advise using sunscreen for short term exposure.

Frederica said...

I'm very upset that you are pushing sunscreens given that the majority on the market contain dubious and carcinogenic ingredients. Far more importantly, there is no mention of the importance of getting 10-15min a day of UVB to produce vitamin D. Oddly enough, there is research to show that people with higher levels of vitamin D are less likely to get melanomas than people who shun the sun and who are vitamin D deficient.

Life Extension said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Life Extension said...

Anonymous, this post is not about sun exposure. It's about excessive UV light exposure from tanning beds. Also, check out the first reference for a clear cut connection between tanning beds and melanoma risk. It's a very good study.

mike brown said...

Aren't they an excellent source of Vitamin D if used sensibly during the short days of winter?

Anonymous said...

Using a lay down lower pressure tanning unit with a minimum 5 % UVB is no different than being exposed to natural sunlight. It would be nice if moderation was taught over scare tactics. The scariest part is those sunscreens that contain chemicals that have been proven to accelerate the growth of cancer are being pushed here. You state you get enough exposure outside well 8 months of year in northern parts of US and all of Canada

Sienna-X said...

Spray tans are definitely becoming more popular, especially as people are becoming more aware of the danger that sun beds carry. More over, spray tans can give a very natural look if applied correctly.

Victoria said...

Great information Marie! There are, thankfully, some great alternatives to exposing one's self to tanning bed risks. However, DHA in tanning products is now being said to generate free radicals; any information on this? There are some DHA free products available just harder to find.

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