Does Getting a "Base Tan" from a Tanning Bed Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage?

Community Member

The short answer to this question is an unequivocal, "NO"

I was rather alarmed when I came across a comment on My Skin Care Connection recommending the use of a tanning bed prior to going out in the sun in order to get what is known as a "base tan." Many people routinely seek a base tan before going on vacation to hot climates with the mistaken belief that this tan will prevent sun damage. This couldn't be further from the truth and I will tell you why:

  • Tans from a tanning bed or from the sun are evidence of UV radiation damage. You want to protect yourself from both tanning and burning.

  • There really isn't any evidence that a base tan is going to protect you very much from getting sun burned. In fact, Skin Cancer Foundation's expert, Dr. Steven M. Rotter says that a suntan or sunbed tan usually provides a maximum SPF (sun protection factor) of only four and that is even if you have a dark tan.

  • The irreversible skin damage from sun tans and tanning beds may include: Brown spots, loss of skin elasticity, sagging, wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging.

  • The single most important reason not to use a tanning bed is that you are drastically increasing your risk for developing life threatening melanoma. A twenty-minute session in a tanning bed is the equivalent to several hours of sun tanning outdoors. A tanning bed intensifies the skin damage process. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, cited research to show that if you are using tanning beds before the age of thirty, you are upping your risk for melanoma by 75%. If that doesn't make you take pause I am not sure what will.

But we will keep presenting this information in hopes that we can prevent people from needlessly dying of skin cancer. The bottom line from most skin care experts is that there is no such thing as a safe tan and especially one from a tanning bed.

If you wish to read more about the dangers of tanning beds here is some additional reading from our skin sites:

What to do instead

It is all about prevention. If you don't want to get sun burned, sun poisoning, sun damage or skin cancer here are some basic tips.

  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours. The sun is the most strong during certain hours of the day. These hours are between 10am and 4:00 pm. If you are at the beach during these hours you can seek shade from an umbrella or tent.

  • Wear protective clothing. There are a lot of light weight clothes nowadays for covering up from the sun. If you do an web search of "Sun Protective Clothing" you are going to find everything from long sleeved swim shirts to swim tights to sun hats. One company recommended by The Skin Cancer Foundation is Coolibar.

  • Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days. Most skin cancer experts say to use an SPF of 30 or above and they also stress the importance of reapplication. Sunscreen wears off especially if you sweat or are in the water. So it is recommended that you reapply every two hours. You also should not skip the sunscreen on cloudy days as it is still possible to get UV sun damage. The American Academy of Dermatology warns us that: "Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet rays can pass through the clouds." Remember also to apply your sunscreen at least thirty minutes before going out into the sun. Here is more information about "The Power of Sunscreen."

For more information on skin cancer prevention please visit Skin Cancer Connection and also read these and our other skin cancer prevention articles: