Skip to OncoLog navigation.Skip to page content.The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center MD Anderson site navigation About Us Locations Events Careers Publications How You Can Help Contact Us myMDAnderson
OncoLog: Report to Physicians Espanol Espanol
Click for Patient Referral.

Previous Issues
Articles by Topic
Patient Education
About OncoLog




From OncoLog, March 2012, Vol. 57, No. 3

Tanning Beds Pose Health Risks
Dangers of tanning range from wrinkled skin to cancer

Graphic: House CallTanning salons advertise a way to jump-start a tan in the winter and early spring, as consumers prepare for the summer’s skin-baring clothing styles. Advertisements for tanning salons sometimes imply that indoor tanning is safer than basking in the sun. However, because indoor tanning beds give off the same harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays as the sun, they are just as dangerous as outside exposure. Exposure to UV rays can lead to skin cancer and other health and appearance problems.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States; almost half of all cancers nationwide are skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 90% of skin cancers and is almost always cured with surgical intervention if caught early. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type. Melanoma is the most deadly and aggressive form of skin cancer.

Studies have linked all three of these skin cancers to tanning bed use. One study found that women who used tanning beds more than once a month were 55% more likely to develop melanoma than were women who had never used tanning beds. The risk was higher for those who began using tanning beds before they were 35 years old. Another study found that, compared with those who had never used tanning beds, people who had ever used tanning beds had a 75% higher risk of developing melanoma, and frequent users faced melanoma risks as much as 200% higher.

Although the World Health Organization listed tanning beds as carcinogenic in 2009, tanning salons outnumber both Starbucks and McDonalds in more than 100 cities in the United States. And more than one-third of 17-year-old American girls have reported indoor tanning.

Legal actions against indoor tanning

Photo: Tanning bed
State legislatures are beginning to recognize the dangers of indoor tanning and the need to regulate it, following the pattern of tobacco legislation. In 2009, Texas passed a law preventing children younger than 16 years from using tanning beds. California followed in 2011, setting the minimum age at 18 years.

Texas has also targeted tanning salon advertisements. In 2008, the Texas attorney general sued a Houston-based tanning salon chain over advertisements claiming that tanning beds reduce the risk of cancer because of the production of vitamin D. In fact, diet and outside activity usually provide plenty of the vitamin without the health risks posed by tanning beds.

Other dangers of indoor tanning

Excess exposure to UV rays can suppress the immune system, increasing vulnerability to infection and disease.

Similar to sun exposure, tanning beds can cause painful skin burns and eye damage, such as photokeratitis (sunburned corneas). Tanning beds also increase the formation of cataracts, a clouding of the eye lens that can lead to blindness.

People who tan to be more attractive often find that their pursuit of beauty has aged their skin prematurely, leaving wrinkles and dark spots. Even tanning enthusiasts who escape cancer might have to undergo surgery to remove unsightly moles, potentially leaving scars.

Indoor tanning has also been found to be addictive. A study at a northeastern college revealed that almost 40% of the students who reported indoor tanning were classified as addicts, and of that group, 78% could not kick the habit. Perhaps it is time to start thinking about tanning beds in the same way that we think about cigarettes.

Save your skin

Just as not smoking can easily prevent many cancers of the lungs and other organs, skin cancer can be prevented if you take simple precautions such as avoiding tanning beds and other unnecessary UV exposure, wearing sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) on a daily basis, and performing monthly skin checks. Follow the ABCDEs of self-screening: see your doctor immediately if you notice any moles or spots that are Asymmetrical, have crooked Borders, are more than one Color, increase in Diameter, or Evolve in any other way.

Self-tanning lotions are far more effective than tanning beds at achieving a bronzed glow while preserving future beauty and health. Keep in mind that self-tanning lotions do not protect the skin from the sun, so a high-SPF sunscreen should also be applied.

– J. Delsigne

For more information, talk to your physician, visit, or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789.

Other articles in OncoLog, March 2012 issue:


Home/Current Issue | Previous Issues | Articles by Topic | Patient Education
About Oncolog | Contact OncoLog
| Sign Up for E-mail Alerts

©2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030
1-877-MDA-6789 (USA) / 1-713-792-3245  
 Patient Referral    Legal Statements    Privacy Policy

Derivacíon de pacientes