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Dr. Steve Throws Shade on Tanning Beds

In this article you'll learn:

1. Why tanning beds are more dangerous than the sun. 

2. There are other options when you're looking for a base tan.

3. You don't need the sun to get your Vitamin D.

4. There are solutions for seasonal affect disorder that don't involve UV rays.

The old cliche, "getting out of the wrong side of the bed" is far worse when it's a tanning bed. Truth is there’s no such thing as a safe tanning bed. According to an American Academy of Dermatology’s Indoor tanning fact sheet (April 2018), just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%). 

An NIH study reported similar findings. 

The data doesn't lie. Neither does aging skin — or raccoon eyes. We asked our founding dermatologist Dr. Steve all about tanning beds, skin damage and what other options there are. 


Why are you so negative on tanning beds? Are raccoon eyes so disagreeable to you?

Dr. Steve: I think this is actually a great public health topic — dispelling myths about tanning beds. Tanning beds are crap. They're evil. Don't do it. Don’t believe that crap that you need to develop a base tan before you go to Mexico for vacation. Sunscreen will do that — we have a great SPF30. You don't need to give yourself extra UV damage to then get more UV damage. It makes absolutely no sense. Tanning beds cause cancer — that's like the take home point. Don’t do it. 

Here's more of my thinking on why sun tanning is a bad strategy.


You've made yourself clear. Is damage from sun tanning beds the same as damage from the sun's UV rays?

Dr. Steve: It’s actually more damaging because tanning beds are purely by choice. Tanning beds are carcinogenic, and increase your risk of melanoma — that's been proven. 

Tanning beds use UVA light, which can cause skin cells to age and indirect damage to cells' DNA, which can lead to some skin cancers. Plus, the concentration of UVA rays from a tanning bed is greater than the amount of UVA rays a person gets from the sun. So tanning beds can cause more damage than the sun. 

So I would say it's more damaging because it's a volitional choice to go to a tanning bed. Remember, UV rays in Chicago in winter are different from what you'd see in Cancun, Mexico in the summer, so there are different levels of damage. But I think tanning bed UV rays are just bad for you, period. 

To answer your question — can a dermatologist tell whether your tan is from the sun or a tan from a tanning booth?  That I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I see a lot of moles on people that are tanning-bed users.

Is there another way to get a tan, other than these UVA rays?

Dr. Steve: YES! You could do a spray-on tan, those are safe and don’t cause any damage to your skin and some of them look pretty good. 

Do you recommend an SPF for the tanning bed?

Dr. Steve: No, because I recommend you don't get in the tanning bed. Plus, it’s weird to put an SPF on and then go to the tanning bed, right? You’re going to the tanning bed to get tan, and the SPF prevents you from getting tan, right? So just don't go to the damn tanning bed.


What about Vitamin D? People go to tanning beds for some Vitamin D.

Dr. Steve: People talk a lot about getting vitamin D. Here's the deal with Vitamin D: When your skin is exposed to the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, it hits cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur. Vitamin D has many roles in the body and is essential for optimal health. Most people get enough vitamin D from incidental sun exposure on the face and hands in just a few minutes a day. But the bulbs used in tanning beds emit mostly UVA light. Instead, take a supplement — they don’t have any skin cancer risk. 

What about for seasonal affect disorder? People feel better after getting some sun. 

Dr. Steve: Yes, and if you’re sad in the winter and you live in a cold part of the country and you think a tanning bed is going to correct that, you can get a white light instead. It shifts your circadian rhythm (24-hour internal clock that regulates sleep and other physiological processes) and improves the mood. It’s also non-ionizing so it’s safe. Some people call it a “happy light.” Also, getting outside in daylight, with sun protection, especially if you can commune with nature, is a proven mood booster.

Can that non-ionizing white light help your skin produce vitamin D?

Dr. Steve: No, you need UV to produce vitamin D through your skin. For those in northern climates in the winter, fortified foods and a supplement can fill in the gaps.

Finally, I’ll say this: By choosing not to use a tanning bed, you reduce your risk of getting many types of skin cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that if people under the age of 18 never used a tanning bed, we could prevent about 61,839 melanomas and 6,735 deaths due to melanoma. (American Academy of Dermatology. Research: Indoor tanning age restriction could reduce melanoma incidence. News release issued December 6, 2016).

And if everyone used sunscreen, we’d prevent untold numbers of melanoma. 


Try Geologie’s SPF30 sunscreen or the duo pack, with SPF30 and moisturizer.

Here's more information on how we designed our SPF and why it took so long to do it. 

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