The Dangers of Tanning Lamps
For many people having a golden tan is a sign of health, youth, and vibrancy. This has not always been the case as during the Renaissance and Elizabethan period many European societies viewed pale skin as a sign of beauty and class. This view began to change however, during the late 19th century. During that time it became more fashionable to have more color to the skin and people began to associate paler skin tones with poverty and sickness. The idea was that more affluent people had the time to pursue activities under the sun at their leisure.
Although tanning was often courtesy of the sun, the first indoor tanning option called the "Light Bath" was created by John Harvey Kellogg. This ancestor to sun beds was designed for use to help people overcome conditions such as eczema. In the early 20th century sun lamps were popular as industrial pollution reduced sunlight and caused a rise in conditions such as tuberculosis and rickets. The use of artificial sun lamps also caused people to tan, which gave rise to the phrase "a healthy tan." Sun lamps for health eventually gave way to indoor tanning and sun beds. Friedrich Wolff, a German scientist, invented the sun bed while he was in the process of testing ultraviolet light on athletes. Indoor tanning has grown increasingly more popular over the years with people seeking more even tans or year-round tans, particularly in areas where there is limited sunlight. Unfortunately, this practice isn't as safe or "healthy" as people may have once believed.
- The American Cancer Society - An Unhealthy Glow
- USA Today: FDA Proposes Tougher Regulations on Tanning Beds
UVA and UVB are two types of ultraviolet light that come naturally from sunlight. When a person uses an indoor sun bed, he or she is exposing his or herself to artificial UVA and UVB light that is just as harmful as what comes from the sun. In fact, sun beds and indoor tanning light can produce as much as three times the UVA light that a person would get from being outdoors in the sun. Ultraviolet light is waves of radiation, or energy, from the sun that is not visible to the naked eye. The UVA rays have a longer wavelength and they are able to go deep into a person's dermal skin layer. UVB rays affect the outer layers of skin and have a much shorter wavelength. They are more damaging than UVA and the rays that will burn the skin.
Tanning beds use tanning lamps that emit both UVA and UVB light. The person who is receiving the service may use an indoor tanning lotion on his or her skin prior to laying on the bed's acrylic surface. This helps to accelerate the process but does not provide UV protection. Protective eye goggles are also placed on the eyes to help protect them. The process begins with UVB light, however the time under UVB is short and the UVA is used primarily. The light penetrates the skin and stimulates melanin production. There are five levels of tanning beds. The first level is the simplest and least expensive and uses 100 watt bulbs. Level two beds are medium pressure beds and have between 35 to 54 lamps. Beds at level three have roughly 60 lamps that are 160 watts. Beds that block the most UV rays are level four and five and are the most expensive. Typically people spend the least amount of time in these beds.
Indoor tanning has a number of major health risks that people should be aware of if they are considering the use of a sun bed or sun booth. The greatest concern is that tanning is a cancer risk as UV radiation is a known carcinogen. In 2009 the World Health Organization placed indoor tanning and UV tanning beds with mustard gas and arsenic as one of the most cancer causing problems. It increases a person's risk for developing skin cancer particularly in people who have a history of skin cancer or cancer runs in the family. People who burn easily, have freckles, naturally pale skin, certain kinds of moles or naturally blond or red hair and green or blue eyes, are at greatest risk for developing skin cancer. People with certain diseases or health conditions should also avoid sun beds. For example, people who have the disease Lupus should avoid indoor tanning as it will worsen the condition. Immune suppression is also a problem that may develop in certain people, such as people who are being treated for Herpes.
- Canadian Dermatology Association: Indoor Tanning
- Tanning Bed Exposure Can be Deadly When Complicated by Medication Exposure
- FDA Regulation of Sunlamp Products (PDF)
While cancer and the worsening of certain diseases are major worries, they are not the only worries that a person will face as a result of indoor tanning. It can cause eye problems, such as sunburn of the corneas. This is a painful condition that causes the eyes to feel gritty, and results in tearing and swelling of the eyelids. Long-term eye problems include the development of cataracts. Indoor tanning can also cause premature wrinkles and aging of the skin, allergic reactions, and burns.
- Canadian Cancer Society - Indoor Tanning
- Delaware Health and Social Services: Frequently Asked Questions Indoor Tanning (PDF)
For some people it isn't enough to simply have a golden glow. In some instances a person may develop an addiction to tanning and tanning products. In some instances this is an overwhelming desire to have a deeper tan, however, frequently there is a deeper cause behind this type of addiction. Often people express an enhancement in their mood, feeling more social, relaxed and even free of any pain. Some dermatologists believe that people are addicted to the UV light and the endorphins it releases. For people with this addiction it is difficult to stop and withdrawal symptoms are evident. People who suffer from this addiction may be helped by finding a replacement that releases feel-good chemicals, such as exercise. The use of sunless tanning creams and other non-UV products may also help by giving the skin a golden glow.
- American Osteopathic Association - The Truth About Indoor Tanning
- BU Today - Indoor Tanning Dangerous, Warns MED Prof
Every year there are roughly 2.3 million teens who visit tanning salons. Typically teens seek out these salons for a year round bronze tan. This however is causing an increase in skin cancer, with people getting it at a younger age than ever before. In efforts to curb this trend many states have passed laws that ban teens from using indoor tanning services. Other laws passed include the 2010 nationwide law that requires a ten percent tax that tanning salons must pay. Fortunately, at a time when kids look up to their favorite celebrities there are many stars who shun indoor tanning in favor of spray or air-brushed tans. Some celebrities, such as Twilight stars Robert Patterson and Kristin Stewart are most often seen tan-free.
There are claims that tanning can produce Vitamin D. While this is accurate, due to the many other dangers tanning can cause it is advised that individuals increase Vitamin D production in other more healthy ways.
Content Courtesy of David Miller