Tanning Bed Myths

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Despite the preponderance of research to show that tanning bed use is unsafe there are still many individuals who ignore the risks. To complicate this issue are the myths perpetuated about tanning beds primarily by marketers from the tanning bed industry. In this post we are going to discuss the inaccuracies of these myths one by one. We are going to provide the facts you need in order to make an informed decision about tanning. Whether or not you use a tanning bed is your personal choice. But it is important for you to know the risks beforehand. All we are trying to do here is to educate the public about the dangers of tanning in order to prevent another needless death to melanoma skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology cites an alarming statistic that one American dies of melanoma every hour. This doesn't need to be. Let's change this statistic through education and awareness. The following are some of the most prevalent tanning bed myths. Learn the real truth about the dangers and risks of using tanning beds.

Myth #1: Using tanning beds in moderation is safe.

When it comes to tanning whether it is tanning in the sun or at a tanning salon, there is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan when you have been exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Tans from a tanning bed or from the sun are evidence of UV radiation damage. Each time you tan you are accumulating sun damage which can cause wrinkles, sagging skin, and skin cancer. And here is the statistic you need to know. Both the American Cancer Society and the Skin Cancer Foundation tell us that the first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.

Myth #2: Teens and twenty somethings don't need to worry about skin cancer as it is an "old person's disease."

The truth is that skin cancer can happen to anyone regardless of age and especially young women who use tanning beds. In a previous post entitled, Personal Stories of Tanning Bed Users Diagnosed with Melanoma, most of my examples are from stories of young women in their early twenties who have been diagnosed with melanoma. In fact, the American Cancer Society
reports that the annual incidence of invasive cutaneous melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, increased among Caucasian women in the United States aged 15 to 39 by 50 percent between 1980 and 2004. Melanoma is now considered to be the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for adolescents and young adults 15-29 years old.
What was once considered a cancer which happened to people in their senior years is now common among young adults.

Myth #3: Tanning at a tanning salon is safer than tanning in the sun.

While the tanning industry has been telling us all these years that tanning booths are safer than getting a sun tan, they are dead wrong. According to the Dermadoctor website, a twenty minute session at your favorite tanning salon is equivalent to spending a full day at the beach. Tanning beds have been reclassified as "carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. You are putting yourself more at risk for not only potentially deadly skin cancers but also for eye damage such as melanoma of the eye. Tanning beds are definitely not considered safe by most medical experts.

Myth #4: You need to spend time in a tanning bed to beat the winter blues or to treat depression.

No you don't. There are many happy people in the world who don't use tanning beds. And in fact a considerable number of people who do use tanning beds are prone to developing a tanning bed addiction. In a 2007 Health Central article, "Are You Addicted to Tanning?" author Sue Chung cites a study showing that tanning addicts suffered from withdrawal symptoms similar to drug and alcohol addictions including showing symptoms of nausea and dizziness. According to this same study, it was found that 18 percent of students who said they tan on purpose were found to exhibit addictive behaviors toward tanning. Compulsive tanning may also be linked to another psychological disorder called body dysmorphic disorder, which is defined by some as a preoccupation with some minor or non-existent flaw in one's appearance.

In another study reported in the April 2010 issue of The Archives of Dermatology, individuals diagnosed with a tanning addiction reported greater symptoms of anxiety and greater use of alcohol, marijuana, and other substances than those who did not meet these criteria. The use of tanning beds is an unsafe way to deal with mental health issues and may in fact cover up associated psychological disorders.

Myth #5: You need to use a tanning bed in order to get an adequate supply of your Vitamin D.

This is an on-going myth perpetuated by the tanning industry to smoke screen the fact that tanning beds are considered a carcinogen to humans. You do not need to go anywhere near a tanning bed to get your Vitamin D. In recent years there has been an urgency to get people to increase their Vitamin D intake in order to prevent certain types of cancer. But recent studies are showing that you don't need as much Vitamin D as was being promoted. MSNBC
reported that the new dietary guidelines say that there is no proof that Vitamin D prevents diseases and in fact if you take too much, it can cause some kinds of cancer.

If you are deficient in your Vitamin D levels there are supplements you can take. James Spencer, vice-chair and director of dermatologic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, is quoted in a Discover magazine article as saying:

"You do not need to go to the beach or the tanning parlor to raise your vitamin D-and get wrinkles and skin cancer-when you can just simply eat a balanced diet and take vitamin supplements if you want.We don't really know that vitamin D prevents cancer. To say that vitamin D prevents cancer is a wild speculation.To say that ultraviolet light causes skin cancer is a fact."

Myth #6: You need a tan to feel and look beautiful.

This is definitely an image perpetuated by the tanning industry which has many young women becoming addicted to tanning. The consequence is that young women who believe that they have to tan in order to be beautiful are now developing deadly melanomas at an early age. It is time to let people know that tanned skin does not equate with beauty. Tanned skin means you have sun damaged skin which is more prone to aging and wrinkles, not to mention skin cancer.
In order to tackle this topic I wrote an article entitled, "Our Image of Beauty May be Contributing to the Rise of Skin Cancer."

Myth #7: You need to use a tanning booth in order to get tan.

The desire for a tanned appearance does not have to mean you must damage your skin in a tanning booth. There are a plethora of sunless tanners and bronzers which eliminate the need for tanning booths entirely. Our Doctor Kevin Berman has written about these sunless tanners and how, if applied properly, can look just as good as a "natural" tan.

The Bottom Line: You don't need to visit tanning salons. There is no reason to risk your health for a tanning bed tan. It just doesn't make sense.

Here are some additional articles about tanning beds and the potential risks:

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."