What Are The Risks Of Tanning

the risks from sunbathing and sunbeds

The use of tanning beds especially among young people is very popular and while there has been an effort to try and create awareness on the dangers involved, there are still millions around the world who are still using these beds. Oncologists have attributed the increasing cases of lethal melanoma cases among young men and women to tanning beds. Melanoma is the second most common cancer among adults under the age of 30. The sad part about all this is that even with the dangers of tanning becoming so clear, the majority of young men and women who use these beds do it as part of what they believe is a healthy lifestyle and a natural beauty routine.

Why Is Tanning Dangerous

Tanning has been blamed for 90% of all cases of melanoma globally. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or artificial UV from tanning beds has been classified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) under the “high cancer risk” category. Simply put, UV exposure is as dangerous of a carcinogen as Radium and Plutonium. A meta-analysis done by Boniol and Colleagues in 2012 confirmed a link between tanning and melanoma.

In addition to this, a 2014 study by Colantonio and Colleagues reconfirmed this relationship and went on to note that contrary to the information that was being released to the public, new tanning bed models were not any safer compared to old ones. Studies by the Melanoma Research Foundation also found that using tanning beds increased the chances of developing melanoma by 75%. The foundation added that the more tanning sessions people have, the higher the risk of cancer.

Other Side Effects

Other than the risk of getting cancer, tanning could also lead to additional skin conditions. To start with, exposure to UV radiation could cause premature skin aging and the appearance of wrinkles or age spots. Considering that there is a strong belief that tanning is a natural way of looking younger and keeping the skin healthy, this fact couldn’t be more important. Tanning could also lead to changes in skin texture. Loss of skin texture can be dangerous because it makes exposure to UV even more dangerous.

Finally, tanning may also lead to eye blinding conditions. The UV light used in tanning beds can be harmful to your eyes if it’s not controlled. In addition to this, proper eye protection must be used at all times. In cases where this does not happen, the harmful effects of the light on your eyes can be disastrous.

Debunking The Myths

Although the dangers of tanning are very clear, many people are still using tanning beds. So, this begs the question why? There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding tanning, its safety, and its benefits. Sadly, this misinformation has created strong myths that have made it harder for people to turn away from these beds. The Melanoma Research Foundation notes that one of the key selling points for tanning beds has been the assumption that they offer the much needed Vitamin D for the skin.

picture of a sunny beach that would be dangerous to tan at

However, this is not true. In fact, tanning bulbs release UVA radiation instead of UVB which is not needed for the synthesis of vitamin D in the body.  Besides, the required intake of vitamin D can easily be found in a regular healthy diet. There has also been a myth that there are newer tanning bed models that are safer. The Melanoma Research Foundation has rejected this assumption. There is no such thing as a “safe tan”. The logic behind this is simple, regardless of the tanning bed you will use, the process is still the same.

Tanning damages skin cells and according to studies, a continuous damage of skin cells over time culminates in various skin issues including premature aging and skin cancer. Tanning bed companies have also marketed their products as a simple way of getting a base tan for a vacation. The assumption is that a base tan helps prevent sunburns but that is not true. Studies have shown that a base tan provides very little protection from sunburns.

The Addictive Nature Of Tanning

Although misinformation has been blamed for the increasing ignorance on the dangers of tanning in the public, there could be another more scientific reason. Tanning can be addictive! Similar to other cancer-causing activities such as smoking, research has found some level of addiction towards tanning. Exposure to UV radiation on a regular basis has been shown to stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals in the body that induce feelings of well-being and reduce pain.

There is a fear that such a release could lead to dependence. To further support this thesis, a recent study that was published on “Everyday Health” noted there were some people who continued to use indoor tanning beds even after they were diagnosed with Melanoma. This could explain why even with the strong link between tanning and skin cancer, the use of indoor tanning bed still remains prevalent.

What’s The Way Forward?

The recommendation by many organizations is to help develop sunless tanning solutions that do not involve exposure to UV radiation. The challenge with this though is that some of the ingredients used in making sunless tanning creams could cause respiratory irritations. There is also the argument that the majority of young men and women who visit tanning beds do it not just because they want a tan but because it’s part of the popular culture today. Sunless tanning products wouldn’t be effective in such a social setting. Finally, at the moment, most sunless tanning creams are used in conjunction with UV light other than as a replacement. This makes the idea of UV exposure almost inevitable.

Final Thoughts

The dangers of tanning especially in causing skin cancer are now very clear. Countries like Brazil have already banned the use of tanning beds altogether and there is an indication that more countries could follow. There is enough evidence to show that tanning causes skin conditions and more innovative safer ways to replace UV radiation in tanning beds are needed. Until that happens though, young people will continue to expose themselves to these massive risks of cancer.

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