Young Men's Health

Indoor Tanning


You probably know that too much sun exposure can be harmful to your skin and may lead to skin cancer and wrinkles, but what about indoor tanning? Even though you're not getting direct exposure from the sun, indoor tanning can actually be worse for you than being out in the sun without sunscreen. Read on to learn more facts about indoor tanning, as well as alternatives that will give your skin some color - safely.


Why is indoor tanning bad?

Indoor tanning beds or booths give off mostly UVA rays, which go through many layers of skin. These rays cause severe damage; including wrinkles, eye damage, and over time can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a "group one carcinogen" - part of the same group that tobacco is in. A carcinogen is something that causes cancer. The special lights used in tanning salons give off as many as 12 times more UVA rays than the sun does, so you're getting a lot more exposure in a shorter amount of time.


True or False

Going to a tanning salon once in a while, such as before a vacation is okay.


FALSE. Unfortunately, even tanning once in a while isn't safe for your skin. The "tan" you get is actually your body's reaction to UV radiation. What this means is that your skin changes color because your body is trying to protect itself from these harmful rays.


People with dark skin are still at risk for skin damage from indoor tanning.


TRUE. Even though you may have dark skin, that doesn't mean the UV rays won't get through - it just means that it may take a longer for you to notice the effects of the damage (such as wrinkles). Just because the damage shows up more slowly than for lighter skin, it doesn't mean it isn't there. Everyone, no matter what color skin they have, is still at risk.


Indoor tanning can improve acne.


FALSE. It may seem like a tan improves acne, but it really doesn't. In fact, tanning can actually make your acne worse.


Sunless tanners or self-tanning lotions or sprays are a safe alternative to indoor tanning.



Here's where you can find the name of self tanning products that have received The Skin Cancer Foundation's Seal of Recommendation.


If you decide you must to have a tan using UV light (even though you know that it comes with serious risks), make sure you follow these safety precautions:

Is there another way to get a tan aside from UV light and self tanners?

Spray Tanning


Spray tanning or sunless tanning can give your skin a tan-like color by using a chemical known as dihydroxyaceton or (DHA). DHA is approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for EXTERNAL use only. DHA interacts with dead surface cells in the first layer of your skin (epidermis) and darkens the color of your skin, resulting in a fake tan. Typically, the "tan" lasts 5 to 7 days. It's important to remember that most sunless tanners do not contain SPF, so you'll need to apply sunscreen before heading outdoors.


Whether a salon offers an automatic self tanner done by a machine or by hand, be sure that your eyes, nose, mouth, and ears are protected. If the salon does not offer protection such as goggles, ear plugs, etc. find another salon that does. Although the chemicals are considered safe for external use DHA can be dangerous if you consume it.


Tanning Pills


There are pills sold in some stores that promote a sunless tan. These pills are not approved by the FDA, which means that they have not been tested and approved according to the US government standards. These pills contain a harmful chemical known as canthaxanthin which that can change the color of skin from orange to brown. Canthaxanthin can cause allergic reactions, serious eye problems, and can damage your liver.


Although you might like the way your skin looks when it's darker, the bottom line is that indoor tanning is just not worth the risks. If you must have some added color, use a sunless tanning lotion with SPF.


If you're concerned about indoor tanning, here's a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: "Is it ok to go to a tanning salon?"


Written by the CYWH and YMH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 8/9/2013


Related Guides:

Sun Safety

The sun feels nice on our skin and helps our bodies make vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption and healthy bones. Yet, too much sun exposure can be harmful to our skin and may lead to wrinkles and skin cancer...



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