Facebook Pixel

Are Tanning Beds A Fast Track to Skin Cancer?

Rate This

As it turns out, tanning beds pose a greater cancer risk than previously believed. The World Health Organization (WHO) this month elevated tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category – "carcinogenic to humans." Tanning beds' classification had previously been, "probably carcinogenic to humans."

The WHO’s decision was based on a comprehensive review of current research, which shows tanning bed use raises the risk of melanoma of the skin by 75 percent when use starts before the age of 30. The WHO also found a link between tanning bed use and risk of melanoma of the eye.

Melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society recommends people avoid tanning beds altogether.

“This new report confirms and extends the prior recommendation that the use of tanning beds is dangerous to your health, and should be avoided," says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

"Young women in particular are the heaviest users of tanning beds, and, as noted in the report, are at the greatest risk of causing harm to themselves," said Lichtenfeld. He says the report also puts to rest the argument that tanning with UVA spectrum light is safe.

There is a widespread false belief that a tan acquired using a sun bed or sunlamp will offer good skin protection against sunburn when traveling to a sunny location. I fell for this myth while in high school, which ultimately resulted in second degree burns on my face and upper body and a month-long painful recuperation. I have the lightest skin and as is typical with my skin type, even a light tan after repeated sun bed exposure is unlikely. Instead, our skin type generally suffers sunburn reactions, as I so generously discovered.

The pain and risk was all for nought.

In reality, a tan acquired using a sun bed offers only limited protection against sunburn from solar UV radiation. A good estimate is a sun bed tan offers the same protective effect as using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of only 2 to 3, but with far more pain and scarring.

Add a Comment6 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Are Tanning Beds A Fast Track to Skin Cancer?


December 22, 2009 - 8:17am

Thanks for your comments Susan and Rosa. For anyone who would like to learn how to use self-tanning products without streaks or unnatural dark spots, there are two how-to videos on youtube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB3fN9uL3pY AND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OOMz_t2O. Enjoy.

September 22, 2009 - 8:53am

Thanks for sharing this. I have never been able to lay in a tanning bed (mentally, I truly believe it will cause horrible damage to my skin) I have a friend who always stands in the spray machine-- which I think is a lot safer than the tanning beds or sitting out in the sun without protection. I can only hope that they get rid of these tanning beds once and for all-- they do nothing but harm the skin and leave people looking burnt instead of healthy.

September 21, 2009 - 6:06am
HERWriter Guide


Thank you for this share. I also suffered bad burns from tanning beds. I wish I hadn't been so vain and ignorant about tanning beds. I'm not saying everyone else uses them out of vanity or ignorance but for me, if I'm being honest, that was the case. But this was many years and I suppose, as Maya Angelou says - when you know better, you do better!

I was getting a pedicure last week and the woman beside me was asked by the technician if her swollen foot was a problem to work on. She said no and explained to him that she had skin cancer (and has it no longer) and pointed to the scarring by her foot and mentioned that she had intermittent swelling of the same as a result of the cancer (or the treatment, I'm not sure which).

She was very pleasant and seemed very open to talking about it so the researcher in me asked her if she had a family history. She said no, that her oncologists had said it was likely due to too much sun exposure. I asked if she used the sun or tanning beds and she said she used both - a lot. And now has very limited natural sun exposure (just enough to gain the health benefits) and has never set foot in a tanning salon again.

Scary stuff.

September 20, 2009 - 8:42am
EmpowHER Guest

You also did not suffer a third degree burn. A third degree is a deep tissue burn that destroys nerve endings. (Second degree causes blisters on the skin and first degree is the most common superficial burn). Your credibility is all for naught.

September 20, 2009 - 8:06am
EmpowHER Guest

The pain and risk was all for *naught*.

September 15, 2009 - 10:35am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Skin Cancer

Get Email Updates

Skin Cancer Guide


Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!