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Tanning Beds — The Truth

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How did the tanning trend start?
In the 1920’s, under French designer Coco Channel’s influence, tanned skin became glamorous and desirable.  It was regarded as a sign of affluence, youth and social status. Hollywood and Madison Avenue continued the trend by making movies and ads featuring people sporting a “healthy” glow. Today many people still believe that a tan makes them look both more attractive and healthier.  The truth is that while it is a matter of opinion whether a tan is attractive or not, it is certainly not a sign of good health.

What is a tan?
A tan is the skin’s reaction to exposure to UV Radiation. The pigment-producing cells in the epidermis (outer layer of the skin), called melanocytes, increase their activity in the presence of UV Radiation and cause darkening of the skin which appears in the form of freckles, tans and sunburns. This is the skin’s attempt at protecting itself from further damage.

Are tans safe?
A tan obtained through exposure to UV Radiation, whether from natural sunlight or the artificial light in a tanning bed, is a sign of damaged skin. When exposed to UV Radiation (natural or artificial), the skin cells are changed in ways that sometimes lead to skin cancer.

Doesn’t a tan protect my skin?
Only people with naturally darker skin are at less risk for developing skin cancer. When you develop darker skin through tanning or burning, what you are really seeing is the effect of skin damage. Even a so-called “base tan” is achieved through damaging the skin at the cellular level, which raises the risk of skin cancer.

Who Uses Tanning Beds?
The tanning industry is a $5 billion a year business in the United States. Every day more than one million people visit tanning salons. Many of these are young people, particularly teenaged girls and young women. It is estimated that more than 25% of American teenagers have used tanning beds more than 3 times and a 2002 study showed that the percentage of girls who tan doubles from age 14 to 15 and doubles again to 37% at age 17.

What do the experts say about artificial tanning?

  • The levels of UV radiation emitted from tanning beds (both UV-A and UV-B) can be as much as 15 times stronger than the sun.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services has classified UV radiation, both from natural and artificial sources, as a known human carcinogen (cancer causing agent).
  • The World Health Organization recommends that no person under the age of 18 should use a tanning bed.
  • Research has shown that tanning bed use is associated with an increased risk for the three major types of skin cancer; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that there is a clear increase in melanoma risk associated with the use of tanning beds in the teens and twenties.
  • Download NEW tanning bed poster!

How Can I Still Be Tan Without Damaging My Skin?
The only healthy way to obtain a tan is to use a cosmetic tanner or a spray tan from a tanning salon. The chemical that tans the skin (dihydroxyacetone or DHA) has been determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be safe for topical (on the skin) application.

There are a wide variety of self-tanning products on the market now. They are available in many tones and give the skin a natural looking tan, not orange as they did in the past. Look for a product that also contains a sunscreen, as the tan obtained will not protect you from sun damage. Remember to use a sunscreen and reapply it often, if the self-tanner you use does not contain one.

Learn More:

Visit Related Links to learn more about tanning beds and cosmetic tanners.

See Also:

The Truth About Tanning


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