The Doctor Answers: Leave the Tanning Bed Behind
Does getting a base tan at a tanning salon protect and prepare me for my tropical vacation this winter?
Robin Evans, MD Replies:
No, it does not. I hope all my patients know how strongly I feel about protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. UVA radiation is so powerful it penetrates glass and can damage your skin even if you’re indoors or inside a car. To mimic these effects, tanning beds and booths emit ultraviolet radiation too.
I do not recommend exposure to this kind of radiation ever. I’m here to dispel the myth that a base tan will protect you from heavy, direct sun exposure on your vacation. That may be what the ailing indoor tanning industry would have you believe, but it won’t. Tanning machines, like the sun, put you at risk for overexposure to damaging UV light, which is known to cause skin cancers and melanoma. Tanning salons are supposed to use timers to monitor exposures, but lapses can occur and users do sometimes fall asleep. You can also get a UV overdose from tanning bed bulbs that are “running hot.” This can happen because these bulbs may not be checked on a regular basis so one never knows exactly their output over time. Tanning salons are not regulated so it's “buyer beware” when you enter these facilities.
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According to a new study by the CDC, indoor tanning is the cause of approximately 3,234 injuries resulting in emergency room visits every year. People either burn their skin or eyes, faint, or suffer other injuries. The actual number of indoor tanning injuries is likely higher since the study did not include those who did not go to the ER. Burns severe enough to require treatment in an ER indicate excessive exposure to UV radiation and that’s not healthy!
The eyes are particularly vulnerable especially when goggles are not worn. UV radiation can burn the eyes leading to eye cancers such as ocular melanoma. It can also cause cataracts and macular degeneration down the line. In addition, the fluorescent bulbs in tanning machines can break, shattering into the eyes.
Women most commonly suffer from these various injuries since they are four times more likely than men to frequent tanning salons. Young adults, aged 18-34, sustain more than half the injuries because they too are more frequent users of tanning machines.
Even though eleven states have banned indoor tanning for those under age 18, my wish is that it is universally banned. Besides the burns, injuries, and cancer risk, UV radiation also ages the skin prematurely causing wrinkles, uneven tone, and spots.
As an aside, don’t fall for claims that tanning machines are helpful in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder or vitamin D deficiency. Please use vitamin supplementation and diet to fend off the winter blues.
Please protect yourself before you go on vacation AND while you’re relaxing and having fun in the sun. I highly recommend wearing a sun block that’s at least SPF 15, but preferably SPF 25 or higher. Look for a chemical-free sunscreen that has a physical block such as titanium dioxide or zinc in at least 7-10% concentration. We also dispense a sun protection pill called Heliocare, which offers additional protection in an oral anti-oxidant supplement. It gives you 3-4 hours of added protection in addition to your sunscreen. And don’t forget to pack your sunglasses, hats, and shawls. If you just have to have that sun-kissed look, try a self-tanning cream. I have some great options in all these categories available in SoCo’s convenient online store. Come back from your vacation glowing from within, not baked to a crisp!
Questions? Call us: (203) 323-5660