Prevention & Recovery

5 dangers of tanning beds

By: Katherine Vankoughnet

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©

Prevention & Recovery

5 dangers of tanning beds

By: Katherine Vankoughnet
With stories about mothers dragging young children to tanning salons making recent headlines and "tanorexia" becoming a fashionable buzzword, it's fair to say that we've become increasingly aware of our culture's unhealthy obsession with tanning.

But, as the end of summer draws near, people looking to maintain their bronze glow will head straight to the tanning salons. We talked to an expert to learn more about the dangers tanning beds pose to your health. What she said might leave you pale.

Are tanning beds safer than sunlight?
"When exposed to a photon of light, the skin cannot tell whether it's coming from the sun or a tanning bed," explains Dr. Cheryl Rosen, head of the Dermatology Division at Toronto Western Hospital. "The problem with using tanning salons is that the skin is often exposed to such concentrated doses."

No matter how you're getting your tan, there are consequences. "Any exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays will cause damage to your DNA, leading to a variety of mutations that can't all be corrected," she explains. Here are some of the effects you can expect from hitting the tanning salon.

5 risks of using tanning beds
1. Prematurely aged skin 
Exposure to UV radiation, whether natural or artificial, causes visible damage to the skin by breaking down collagen and reducing elasticity. What results is an increase in wrinkles, dark spots and that loose, leathery look that can add decades to your physical appearance.

2. Skin cancer
Recent studies have shown that frequent use of tanning beds will increase a person's risk of developing melanoma by 20 percent. And that statistic doubles for tanners under the age of 35.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Although it accounts for less than five percent of skin cancers, it's responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. It is the second most common cancer for women under the age of 39 (breast cancer is number one) and, if left undetected, it can spread to other parts of the body very quickly.
3. Actinic keratosis
A premalignant growth defined as rough, scaly patches of skin that can form in areas that have been exposed to UV rays. Though it can be easily removed with liquid nitrogen by your dermatologist, if it's left undetected, it can lead to squamous cell carcinoma, a major form of skin cancer.

4. Weakened immune system
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to UV radiation can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system in the case of recurrent eruptions such as cold sores.

5. Skin infections
As in any salon environment that uses shared equipment, tanning salons can expose you to infections. Poorly maintained or poorly sterilized tanning beds can harbour bacteria that pose a major health risk to unsuspecting users. A study of high-end New York City tanning beds revealed the presence of fecal matter and staphylococcus. A staph infection, which can enter the body through a cut or wound, can be life threatening.

Tanning goggles, which are worn to prevent eye damage while in beds, are also not always properly sanitized and can cause eye infections such as pinkeye.

Still not convinced about the dangers of tanning beds?
"There is no such thing as safe tanning, though the tanning industry will tell you that it's safe in moderation," says Dr. Rosen. "It's basically like asking if there's such a thing as safe smoking."

Though it's been thought that building up a base tan artificially might provide protection from the sun's harmful rays, the resulting SPF (sun protection factor) is actually no higher than four, which pales in comparison to what the average sunblock provides. In fact, it's considered so dangerous that several provinces have banned minors from using tanning beds, much like banning the sale of cigarettes.

If you're desperate for that beach-bronzed look, try self-tanning moisturizers that slowly build colour over a number of applications to avoid that telltale streaky orange look. For special occasions, consider investing in airbrush tanning to get a sun-kissed glow. Or learn to embrace the shade; after all, pale is the new tan.
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Prevention & Recovery

5 dangers of tanning beds