More than 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning. You may think that by getting a base tan or using a tanning bed you’ve mastered how to tan safely, but these (and many other) commonly told tanning myths aren’t true, and can lead to serious problems down the road.
Myth #1: “I need sun exposure year-round to get Vitamin D – it’s good for my health!”
There are two types of rays that come from the sun, UVA and UVB. In short – UVA (aging) rays have a longer wavelength and are responsible for causing signs of visible aging while UVB (burning) rays have a shorter wavelength and are commonly linked to sunburn. UVB rays interact with a protein in the skin and produce Vitamin D. Using a tanning bed, the most popular way to get year-round exposure, will mostly emit UVA rays. By tanning indoors, you get all the aging associated with UVA rays with no change to your Vitamin D levels.
Year-round sun exposure is not needed to get the Vitamin D your body needs for bone health. Most people get enough Vitamin D exposure from a few minutes of accidental sun on the face and hands each day. If you have low Vitamin D levels, consult with your physician on over the counter Vitamin D supplements.
Using Vitamin D as an excuse to tan? Not how to tan safely.
Myth #2: “I tan indoors – it’s way safer than tanning outside”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), 35% of American adults, 59% of college students and 17% of teens have reported using a tanning bed in their lifetime. The AAD further states that using an indoor tanning bed before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 59%. Advocates for tanning beds will argue that they are safer because they emit mostly UVA light and very little UVB. This outdated thought process began when research on UVA rays was limited, and UVA rays were believed to only cause skin aging. We now know that UVA penetrates much deeper into the skin and is strongly linked to melanoma.
Just one indoor tanning session can increase melanoma risk by 20%. If you want to tan safely, steer clear from myths advocating for indoor tanning.
Myth #3: “When I get a good base tan I have less sun damage”
People have long thought that once they get their first burn of summer they’ve mastered how to tan safely and are less likely to get sun damage for the coming months. This is untrue, as any tan causes DNA damage in skin cells. In fact, having tan is evidence of skin damage. When exposed to the sun skin appears darker because it redistributes melanin as a method of protection. To avoid unnecessary skin damage, stay far away from myth #3!
How to Tan Safely
Tanning can be a hard habit to break. We’ve heard countless times patients say they look better or feel more confident when tan. Unfortunately, no tan is a safe tan. The best option? Self-tanners or spray tans can provide a bronze glow with no risk of sun exposure.
We aren’t suggesting you avoid the sun forever, but we do want you to know the risks of cancer and be aware of how to protect yourself. It’s best to wear mineral-based sunscreen every day (even when it’s cloudy). For added protection, we recommend the supplement Heliocare, a powerful blend of antioxidants that when taken orally helps the body fight free radicals. Don’t forget your wide-brimmed hat and sun-protective clothing! To read more about how sun exposure influences the aging process, visit our Age Guide.