Tanning Beds - More Dangerous than Sunlight?

Medical Author: Melissa Stöppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Many people today still want a tan despite the fact that sun exposure is known to be associated with skin cancer and premature ageing of the skin. A tan is often seen as cosmetically attractive and as an outward sign of good health.

A tan is actually a sign of skin damage. Skin cells that have been damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation produce more of the pigment melanin and that is what produces the tan.

Many people think that tanning booths and beds are safe alternatives to acquiring a tan "naturally" outdoors. This is based on the erroneous belief that tanning indoors does not damage the skin. This false sense of security has encouraged the frequent use of tanning booths and beds.

In fact, they may be even more dangerous. Natural sunlight contains a mixture of both short-wave UV-B and longer wave UV-A rays. Both UV-A and UV-B exposures can lead to premature ageing of the skin, and both increase a person's risk of developing skin cancer, including malignant melanoma. The difference is that UV-B rays cause more rapid tanning and burning while UV-A rays do not cause burning until exposure levels are very high.