Why is tanning dangerous?

As many as 90% of melanomas are estimated to be caused by ultraviolet (UV) exposure. This includes UV exposure from the sun and from artificial sources, such as tanning beds. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies tanning beds and tanning lamps into its highest cancer risk category – carcinogenic to humans, the same category as other hazardous substances such as plutonium and certain types of radium.

Numerous individual studies, including an analysis of several studies combined (meta-analyses), have consistently shown that indoor tanning increases the risk of developing all forms of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Misleading Information

The tanning industry has tried to tell consumers that vitamin D is necessary and that it should be sought from tanning beds. However, the majority of tanning bulbs actually emit UVA radiation, and UVB radiation is needed for the body to produce vitamin D. That fact is, all necessary vitamin D can be found in a healthy diet or from a vitamin supplement. If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, consult your doctor, not a tanning salon!

Staggering Statistics

Research indicates that just one blistering sunburn can double your chances of developing melanoma later in life. In addition, using tanning beds before age 30 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. Occasional use of tanning beds triples your chances. Research also suggests a strong dose-response relationship - meaning the more sessions, hours and years spent tanning, the higher the risk of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer. 

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30 years old and the second leading cause of cancer death in women 30-35 years old. 

There is NO Such Thing as a “Safe Tan”

Tanned skin is a result of damage to skin cells. Research suggests that the cumulative damage to skin cells can lead to wrinkles, age spots, premature aging and skin cancer. Tanning is so dangerous that several countries, including Brazil, have made it completely illegal.

What about getting a "base tan" before you go on vacation? Well, studies have actually found that a base tan fails to protect against sunburn and provides very minimal sun protection - equivalent to an SPF of about 3. 

Tanning is Addictive

The connection between UV radiation and melanoma is clear, yet tanning is more popular than ever. This has prompted researchers to explore the addictive nature of tanning. Resulting research shows tanning is, in fact, addictive, similar to other cancer-causing activities (e.g. tobacco use). UV light has been shown to increase the release of endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that relieve pain and generate feelings of well-being. This could potentially lead to dependency.

In fact, a recent study found that some people who have been diagnosed with melanoma continue to use indoor tanning beds – further supporting the idea that tanning is addictive.

 

The bottom line? Intentional tanning of any kind, in the sun or in a tanning bed, is never recommended. 

 

Would you like to see more melanoma facts and figures? View the MRF’s 'It's a Fact' sheet.