Indoor Tanning

Indoor Tanning
By David F. Jaffe, M.D.

Risks of skin cancer from ultraviolet light exposure, as published in "The Aegis," February 2000, Bel Air, MD

Dear Editor:

I would like to clarify some misperceptions about the indoor tanning industry reflected in your “Sun Spa opens in Emmorton” in the business section of the February 16 Aegis.. Your article painted a picture of tanning as a tranquil, healthful, recreational experience. A proprietor is quoted as saying that the salon’s intention is to take the customer to “a tropical paradise.” The impression left for the reader is that indoor tanning is a safe, healthy activity.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indoor tanning is fraught with health risks of which your readers need to be aware. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign of injury: the skin’s response to an overdose of ultraviolet radiation. Tanning with a sunlamp is not any safer than sunlight.

Further, indoor tanning beds give only a small amount of burning rays – ultraviolet B (UVB) – but provide an intense dose of ultraviolet A (UVA) that is 2-3 times as strong as outdoor light. This UVA light penetrates more deeply into the skin than UVB, damaging the skin’s elasticity. Thirty minutes in an indoor tanning bed is equal to a day at the beach for UVA exposure. Indoor tanning can cause red, dry, itchy skin and, later, wrinkles, brown spots, premature aging and basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancers. And, despite sensationalized reports to the contrary, the bulk of scientific evidence suggests that UVA rays have suspected links to immune system damage and melanoma skin cancer.

Dermatologists do not endorse tanning salons. On the contrary, the Maryland Dermatologic Society has even proposed legislation to regulate indoor tanning facilities. The American Academy of Dermatology has been active in efforts to regulate the tanning industry since 1987. Twenty-four states regulate indoor tanning facilities at the state or local level. Most states with legislation on tanning operations require regular governmental inspections and posting of warnings of possible side effects from large doses of ultraviolet A radiation.

Maryland’s tanning salons are as yet unregulated. Your readers need to be aware of the dangers of indoor tanning. Misinformation on indoor tanning permeates the media and our contemporary culture.

David F. Jaffe, MD
Dr. Jaffe is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Havre de Grace.