American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

The Truth About Indoor Tanning

Woman sitting outdoors in the sunAs the temperatures rise and shorts replace pants, pale winter skin may sway some to consider the speedy effects of indoor tanning to achieve a bronze summer glow. However, indoor tanning is even more dangerous than outdoor sun exposure.  

The myth of health associated with a suntan is simply that—a myth,” explains Craig Wax, DO, an osteopathic family physician practicing in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. “Some people expose themselves to the sun for the vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D made available is minimal compared with the risk of skin cancer with prolonged exposure.”  

He further explains that tanning is the body’s way of protecting itself against ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure. The brown pigment melanin produced by skin is spread throughout the exposed areas. This pigment only minimally protects the skin against further damage from UV radiation. 

Despite this information, the use of indoor tanning devices which emit ultraviolet UV light, both in tanning salons and at home has never been more popular. The industry serves 30 million people, including two to three million teens, and generates $5 billion a year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. 

Many patients consider indoor tanning to be a safer alternative to sun tanning,” he explains. “But it is just the opposite: tanning beds emit up to twice as much skin- damaging radiation.”

Health Risks

Dr. Wax explains that overexposure to UV rays can cause eye injury, premature wrinkling and aging of the skin, light-induced skin rashes and increased chances of developing skin cancer. 

“Young women are prone to use tanning salons,” explains Dr. Wax, “because while the aging effects and skin cancer might take years to surface, the perceived social value of a tan is immediate.” He warns that the dangers of tanning are serious and increase the potential for skin cancer, including:

  • Malignant Melanoma: The deadliest form of skin cancer, often surfacing as a flat or slightly raised discolored patch that has irregular borders. This is the result of intense exposure in childhood, resulting in multiple sunburns.

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): The most common form of skin cancer, BCC can be identified by an open sore, a red patch of skin, a shiny bump, a pink growth or scar-like area. This type of skin cancer follows a similar pattern to melanoma and is best identified by a physician.

Dr. Wax further explains that the health risks associated with UV radiation are even more likely with smoking, the use of birth control pills, anti-depressants, acne medication, ingredients found in anti-dandruff shampoos, lime oil, and some cosmetics. 

“If you or someone you know is using an indoor tanning device, it is important to educate them on the hazards of tanning,” explains Dr. Wax. 

Further, he explains that if skin shows signs of possible cancer, it is important to consult your physician immediately. If you don't have a physician, consider finding a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine. Using a whole-person approach to care, Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to assess the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on your health. They are trained to listen and partner with their patients.


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