Consumer Reports

What’s so bad about tanning beds?

More than a quarter of a million cases of skin cancer can be attributed to tanning bed use.
More than a quarter of a million cases of skin cancer can be attributed to tanning bed use.

More than a quarter of a million cases of skin cancer can be attributed to tanning bed use, according to a new study from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That figure is for 2015, when the total skin cancer cases numbered about 2.4 million.

And another new study shows that some skin cancer survivors actually use tanning beds.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota surveyed more than 700 survivors of melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) and found that about 2 percent had used a tanning bed.


What’s more, 38 percent of melanoma survivors did not often or always wear sunscreen, and 20 percent reported getting sunburned in the past year.

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Though these numbers aren’t high, consider that having been diagnosed with melanoma gives you a ninefold increased risk of developing a second one.

What’s so bad about tanning beds?

Ultraviolet radiation has been classified by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen — and getting your UV rays from a tanning bed might be even more toxic than getting them from the sun.

“Most tanning beds deliver fewer burning UVB rays, but they provide a much more concentrated dose of UVA radiation than the sun,” says Dr. Joel Cohen, a Denver-based dermatologist who serves on the teaching faculty for the University of Colorado and the University of California, Irvine.

UVA rays don’t cause burning; the damage they do is less immediately obvious.


These rays penetrate deeply into the skin and accelerate age-related skin damage, raise the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers, and suppress the immune system.

Protecting your skin

The best way to protect against skin cancer is to avoid excessive exposure to UV rays. That means staying away from tanning beds and shielding your skin from the sun when you are outdoors.

Covering up should be your first priority. Research shows that people who rely on sunscreens alone tend to burn more than those who stay in the shade and wear long sleeves.

When you are showing some skin, sunscreen is a must.

Apply a teaspoon of sunscreen per body part or area — 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen; and 1 for your back and the back of your neck — 15 to 30 minutes before going outside.


Then reapply at least every two hours — more often if you’re swimming or sweating excessively.

Keeping track of changes in your skin is important, too. Tanning bed users should get annual skin checks, as should people who have a history of sunburns; fair skin, light eyes, or red or blond hair; a family history of melanoma; or a personal history of basal cell or squamous cell cancer.