Welcome to LA Dermatology

The Truth About Tanning: Are Tanning Beds Bad for the Skin or Can They Be Used Safely?

Many people love the look of sun-drenched skin. In fact, that’s where the term “healthy glow” comes from. But the truth is that tan skin is actually skin that has become damaged from sun exposure. And there are few tanning modalities more harmful to the skin than tanning beds and booths. Let’s look at why these devices can’t actually be used safely and how to get the sun-kissed skin you’re looking for without putting your health at risk.

How Do Tanning Beds Work?

Tanning beds and booths use special lighting to mimic the sun’s UVA rays. These fluorescent lamps range anywhere from 100-watt bulbs to 140-watt bulbs. Because of their power – and the fact that they simulate UVA rays vs. UVB rays – they can actually penetrate the skin on a deeper level than the sun. This is why ten minutes in a tanning bed equates to about two hours of direct sun exposure.

When these sun-mimicking lamps stimulate the melanocytes in the skin – the cells responsible for giving skin its pigment – they produce more melanin, causing the skin to turn a darker color. When skin is tan, it actually means it has already been damaged and is actively trying to prevent further injury.

Are Tanning Beds Safe in Moderation?

The short answer is no. Tanning beds can absolutely cause skin cancer. Every time you step foot in a tanning bed or booth, you put yourself at risk for developing skin cancer. That’s because any exposure to UV radiation – whether real or artificially produced – can increase your chances of developing skin cancer.

This type of cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop it by the age of 70, and it can spread quickly to other systems of the body, making it potentially fatal.

How Can I Get a Tan Safely?

The very best route to use in order to get sun-kissed skin without increasing your risk of developing skin cancer is to use sunless tanning products. Plenty of artificial tanning agents exist to provide a surface-level tan that can last weeks – similar to semi-permanent makeup.

Self-tanning sprays or lotions can tint the skin after a quick and easy application. You can find a variety of these formulas sold at drug stores or from cosmetic brands. Some go on more smoothly and evenly than others, and they all tend to have different smells, so read reviews and try a few out to find one you like. Or try getting a professional spray tan, either from someone applying the product with a spray gun or via a machine. Some of these go on clear and then develop over a few hours, while others go on bronze from the start. A professional can advise you which to use.

It’s a good idea to exfoliate the skin beforehand so that any tanning product goes on more smoothly. There are even exfoliating gloves that can be used to slough off dead skin cells. Shave or wax at least 24 hours before self-tanner application – enough time to allow the hair follicles to close so that they don’t become irritated.

Contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates

If you’re in Baton Rouge or the surrounding areas and need an annual skin cancer screening or want to learn more about artificial tanning products, contact Louisiana Dermatology Associates today for an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.

Was this helpful?

We would love to meet you and get started on a solution!