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Wake-Up Call: Understanding the Real Risks of Tanning Beds


Want to live longer and look younger? “The answer should be ‘Yes,’” observes dermatologist Hirshel Kahn, MD with Advanced Dermatology PC, “but we still have work to do so that people understand just how dangerous even one trip to a tanning salon can be.”

The evidence is overwhelming: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one session in a tanning bed increases skin cancer risk by almost 70 percent. And CDC research has concluded that eliminating indoor tanning could prevent 200,000 cases of melanoma, saving more than 20,000 lives.

“People may choose to do indoor tanning to look ‘healthy,’” notes Dr. Kahn, “but the reality is that their choice has the opposite effect: It poses a serious health risk and prematurely ages their skin, making them look old before their time.”

Indoor tanning equipment – booths, lamps, bulbs – emit UV radiation, listed as a ‘Group 1’ carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. “UV rays,” emphasizes Dr. Kahn, “are grouped with plutonium and cigarettes. And the reality is that artificial sources can deliver even more intense rays than natural sunlight.”

Despite efforts to educate the public, many seem unaware of the dangers: In the United States, about ten million use indoor tanning, and more than half start before they turn 21. “Especially for younger people, exposure to artificial sunlight is an extreme risk,” explains Dr. Kahn.

“Indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – by almost 75 percent. Young women in particular are casualties: For 15- to 29-year-old women, melanoma is the second most common cancer.”

In 2012, a congressional report detailed the prevalence of misinformation at tanning businesses. Dr. Kahn emphasizes the role of education to help people make fully informed choices when it comes to getting a healthy summer “glow.”

With that in mind, he offers the following guidance:

5 Tips to Protect Us from Indoor Tanning
1. Even once is too much: “It’s crucial for people to understand that no level of tanning is ‘safe,’” explains Dr. Kahn. “Indoor tanning does not provide any base-tan ‘protection.’ Artificial rays are just as damaging as those from the sun – and actually may be more intense than what people would experience outside.

Also, we’re seeing that once people start tanning, it can become a habit that turns addictive, even triggering withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop.”

2. It’s a family affair: “Indoor tanning seems to run in the family,” notes Dr. Kahn. “Not surprising, if you consider that kids will often follow their parents and that parents who tan may be unaware of the risks. The stats here are extremely worrying: a higher percentage of tanners come from families who have experienced skin cancer. We need to end that cycle.”

3. Put safe-D first: “Indoor tanning to get vitamin D makes zero sense,” observes Dr. Kahn. “Outside, the sun’s UVB rays can activate the body’s D production. But indoor tanning equipment emits UVA rays primarily. Plus, there are much safer ways to get our D: food or supplements that don’t cause cancer.”

4. For a healthy glow, “tan” self-ishly: “For people who want a sun-kissed look, there are lots of self-tanner options,” says Dr. Kahn. “In addition to eliminating UV-cancer risk, self-tanners eliminate the premature aging – wrinkles, age spots, leathery skin – that sun exposure causes.”

5. Tanning is not the same as ‘phototherapy’: “Skin conditions like psoriasis can be treated with light therapy,” states Dr. Kahn, “which is carefully controlled by a doctor. In contrast, tanning equipment is not calibrated for medical use, nor do tanning staff have medical expertise. That’s why the National Psoriasis Foundation warns patients to avoid using indoor tanning as self-treatment.”

“If people are aware of the facts about tanning,” Dr. Kahn concludes, “they can make choices that will make them look and feel good – now and for years to come.”

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.