Tanning and UV Light Safety: A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • Now that summer is fast approaching, it may be tempting to lay out by the pool, take your workout outside or hop in a tanning bed without thinking much about UV light safety. We already know that tanning, both outside and in tanning beds, increases the risk for skin cancer, but here’s what the latest research has found.


    Tanning beds may be linked to vitamin D toxicity

    Using a tanning bed too often may result in vitamin D toxicity, according to an observation of a 26-year-old woman published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The woman was referred to the endocrinology clinic for asymptomatic vitamin D toxicity. They found that the woman did not excessively consume milk or take over-the-counter vitamin D supplements, and that she received minimal sun exposure. But, the woman did acknowledge that she used a tanning bed a minimum of three times a week for the last six months.

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    The clinicians advised her to stop using the tanning bed since they could not find another explanation  for the elevated vitamin D levels. After a month without using the tanning bed, the woman’s vitamin D levels decreased.


    The authors noted that though tanning beds could be an alternative source of vitamin D for people with deficiencies, the potential benefit of using tanning beds for that purpose would be outweighed by the risk of developing skin cancer.


    FDA requires warning on sunlamp products

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final order reclassifying sunlamp products and ultraviolet lamps from low risk to moderate-risk devices. The order also requires a visible warning on the device that the sunlamp product not be used by people under the age of 18. Also, the FDA specified that certain marketing materials for the products and UV lamps must include additional warning statements.


    Research has shown that people who have been exposed to radiation from indoor tanning have a 59 percent increased risk of melanoma, and the risk increases each time they use a sunlamp product.


    The decision for the final order for reclassification of these products came out of recommendations from a panel of outside experts.  The panel evaluated the risks of sunlamp products and recommended that the FDA increase regulation of them.


    Melanoma risk increased by indoor tanning even without burning

    Some people use indoor tanning as a tool to prevent the burns they might receive outdoors. But new research shows that indoor tanning increases the risk of developing melanoma even if a person has never had burns from indoor or outdoor tanning.


    The study, published in the JCNI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, matched 1167 melanoma patients to 1101 control subjects by age and sex. All participants completed a questionnaire and telephone interview. When researchers adjusted for socio-demographic factors as well as hair and skin color, number of freckles and moles, family history of melanoma, and lifetime sun exposure and sunscreen use, they found that melanoma patients who reported zero lifetime burns were almost four times more likely to be indoor tanners. They also found that melanoma patients with no sunburns reported that they started tanning indoors at a younger age and used indoor tanning for more years than people who had experienced sunburn.


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    The findings show that indoor tanning, even when it doesn’t produce burns, is a risk factor for melanoma.


    Multiple adolescent sunburns increases melanoma risk

    New research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, suggests that five or more blistering sunburns experienced before the age of 20 could increase risk of melanoma by 80 percent.


    For the study, researchers looked at 20 years of collected data from the Nurses’ Health Study III, which targeted female nurses between the ages of 25 and 42 across 14 states in 1989. The questionnaire asked participants the number of severe blistering sunburns that they experienced between the ages of 15 and 20, along with personal history of melanoma, basal or squamous cell skin cancer, family history of melanoma and number of moles between the knees and ankles on both legs. Participants received a follow-up questionnaire every two years relating to possible skin cancer risk factors.


    Results showed that women who had five or more blistering sunburns when they were 15 to 20 years old had a 68 percent increased risk for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma and an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma.

    Researchers say that sun exposure in early life and adulthood is a predictor of non-melanoma skin cancers, but melanoma risk was predominantly associated with sunburn in early life.



    American College of Physicians. (2014, June 2). "Observation: Tanning beds associated with vitamin D toxicity?." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/277447.php


    Oxford University Press USA. (2014, May 30). "Risk of melanoma increased by indoor tanning, even without burning." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/277455.php


    FDA. (2014, June 2). "FDA to require warnings on sunlamp products." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/277573.php


    Nichols, H. (2014, June 2). "Multiple sunburns as an adolescent increases melanoma risk by 80%." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277538.php

Published On: June 06, 2014