Are Tanning Beds Bad For Your Skin?

Artificial Light Versus the Sun

Public Opinion On Skin Tone

It may be hard to believe right now, but there was a time when the general public actually favored fair skin instead of the look of a deep, dark tan. History suggests that until the late 19th century, people with pale skin were often associated with a higher social class. Those with a dark tan would suggests that they spent their days working in the fields under the hot sun while those with little-to-no-tan seemed to prove that they were well off. They didn’t need to do the gardening at home, they had people to do that.

Instead of laying out in the sun with little to no clothing, women would often carry umbrellas, wear wide-brimmed hats and cover their hands with gloves. Even in their homes, heavy curtains would block out the sun. (Of course, more often than not, that was done to keep the furniture from fading.) Those with pale skin were viewed as being healthy while others with dark skin were associated with having poor health

Blame it on Coco

Some people have blamed Coco Chanel for the shift in tanned skin. In 1923, when she returned from a vacation in Cannes, people were shocked to see that her skin featured and brown glow. In an interview with Vogue magazine she said, “A golden tan is the index of chic!” And just like that, people began going out of their way to get a tan.

It was also during the 1920’s when doctors would prescribed patients to use at-home sun lamps which were believed to help with symptoms from depression, diabetes, constipation, pneumonia and even high or low blood pressure. Then the work force began to change. More and more blue-collar workers were moving indoors to work in factories. As their dark skin began to fade, so did the allusion that pale skin was healthy skin.

The First Tanning Beds

People began using sun lamps to get a tan instead of their intended use but the UV lamps would give off a large percentage of UVB which would often lead to a burning of the skin. A German scientist known as Friendrich Wolff is created for creating the first tanning bed which emitted 95% UVA and just 5% UVB which helped to prevent the burning of the skin. By 1978, his beds were sold in America and “going to a tanning salon” became a thing.

At first, tanning beds were seen as a convenience taking only a few minutes at a time to develop a tan even during the winter, but soon, indoor tanning became known as a “safe” way to tan with little chance of getting burned unless one would lose track of time. Since that time, new technologies have come and gone “improving” the tanning the experience and making tanning “safer.” But the truth of the matter is that while manufacturers of tanning beds continue to say that their devices are safe, doctors report over and over again that any tan, whether it be directly from the sun or from a metal box, was actually causing skin damage.

Man with sunburn getting a topical cream applied to his back

The Threat of Melanoma

Many have assumed that as long as one doesn’t get a sunburn, that they are tanning in a safe way, but according to, people generally receive a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma from just one visit to a tanning salon before the age of 35.

“It’s a fact: There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. Tanning increases your risk of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma,” says the organization.

Tanning is the effect made when skin is exposed to ultraviolet or UV radiation. Tanning, whether it be from the sun or from a bed, is the result of the damage done to one’s outmost layer of skin. The organization also claims that there are more skin cancer cases from tanning indoors than there are lung cancer case due to smoking. One study investigating 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 30 found that 97 percent of them used tanning beds.

Tanning Myths

While a nice tan my look nice, it is the act of tanning changes one’s skin making the appearances of wrinkles, dark spots and a weathered or leathery look, but this is easy to ignore when one’s skins looks great. While the damage has already been done, it doesn’t show up until bunch later.

People often talk themselves into believing in other tanning myth. Some people believe that it is heathy to get a “base tan” before going on vacation where they will assume the rest of their tan while lying on the beach. These people often do so with the aid of a tanning bed. The problem is that those beds only expose one to more harmful UV rays.

People often believe that lying out in the sun is a healthy way to boost up one’s Vitamin D intake. But experts state that all one needs to do so is to expose one’s self to the sun for anywhere between two and ten minutes without sunscreen. And even then, many recommend that one get their Vitamin D from vitamins instead.

Tanning Beds Still are Unsafe

In 2008, John Overstreet, the executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association in Washington D.C., made waves when he said, “There are many factors involved with melanoma skin cancer. You constantly hear indoor tanning causes melanoma, [but] many millions of people do this [indoor tanning] and don’t get skin cancer.”

But David E. Fisher, MD, PhD and chairman of dermatology and director of the melanoma program at Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School in Boston says that the link between ultraviolet exposure from the sun or tanning beds and melanoma is indisputable.

“There is no question that ultraviolet exposure is associated with an increased risk of melanoma,” says Fisher pointing to a study that was published in the International Journal of Cancer which reviewed 19 published studies comparing tanning bed use and skin cancers.