Indoor Tanning Beds are Not Safer than Natural Sunlight

A woman lying in a tanning bed. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)
A woman lying in a tanning bed. (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)

Many snowbirds are getting ready to move down south for winter. Some are also booking holidays to get away for a couple weeks to warmer places. The idea is to get away from cooler temperatures, spend time on a beach and soak in the natural sunlight. Before they go away, some travellers visit indoor tanning salons to get a mild tan thinking that this would protect them from sunburn and skin cancer.

There are people who like to look tanned year round and visit indoor tanning salons on a regular basis ignoring the fact that indoor tanning is as bad as basking in the natural sunlight. Some parents encourage their children to visit indoor tanning salons. Studies have shown indoor tanning bed use and childhood sunburns increase skin cancer in young adults.

There is no doubt, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation damages your skin, whether the exposure comes from tanning beds or natural sunlight. The damage eventually leads to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.

A recent Mayo Clinic study, published in the April 2012 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found dramatic rise in skin cancer in young adults, especially among people under 40. Researchers speculate indoor tanning bed use and childhood sunburns are key culprits. The study found the incidence of melanoma has escalated, and young women are the hardest hit.

“We anticipated we’d find rising rates, as other studies are suggesting, but we found an even higher incidence than the National Cancer Institute had reported using the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Result database, and in particular, a dramatic rise in women in their 20s and 30s,” says lead investigator Jerry Brewer, M.D., a Mayo Clinic dermatologist, who was quoted in one of the reports.

The study found the incidence of melanoma increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men. The lifetime risk of melanoma is higher in males than females, but the opposite is true in young adults and adolescents. The good news is mortality rates from the disease have improved over the years, likely due to early detection of skin cancer and prompt medical care.

If you are a frequent user of indoor tanning beds then you are 74 per cent more likely to develop melanoma. Young women frequent indoor tanning salons more often than young men even though many of them know indoor tanning has carcinogenic effects that increase the risk of melanoma.

A study from New Brunswick showed that by Grade 12, one-third of girls were using tanning salons, and one-third of them were going with their mothers, says a report in the Medical Post. It is unacceptable that mothers should encourage their daughters to expose themselves to well recognized carcinogens. There are seven other studies involving nearly 7,400 cases showing that first exposure to sunbeds before age 35 increase melanoma risk by 75 per cent.

The message is clear, exposure to ultraviolet rays ultimately lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. So, understand the risk and take care of yourself. There are many ways to enjoy winter months. Be safe and have fun.

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