inside of a tanning bed

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Pop quiz time!

Which are safer, tanning beds or cigarettes?

Did you guess tanning beds? Then you guessed wrong.

We all know that cigarettes cause cancer. But most people have no idea that you are more likely to develop cancer from a tanning bed than you are from smoking cigarettes. That's the ugly truth.

I'm going to drop some more major truth bombs here today.

And I'm going to tell you now that's it's not good news if you've been tanning.

But stick with me until the end because I'm going to give you several safe alternatives to the tanning bed that will leave you gorgeous and healthy.

Now let's get started.

How Tanning Beds Work

graphics showing a bacon getting cooked inside a tanning bed


Tanning beds use ultraviolet light bulbs to create UV radiation. That radiation tans or burns the skin just like UV rays from the sun.

But let me be clear. Exposure to UV radiation, whether it comes from the sun or a tanning bed, increases your risk of developing deadly skin cancer. In fact, tanning beds are 10 to 14 times stronger than the sun.

You know that UV rays from the sun are dangerous. Well, let me tell you, tanning beds are far more dangerous.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people who use tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than people who don't tan indoors.

The UV radiation that gives you that sun-kissed glow is a type called UVA. The UVA rays stimulate the cells in your lower skin layers. That produces melanin which is a brownish pigment.

Some people believe that the melanin will protect you against exposure to UV light. That is not true.

The problem is that the UVA light penetrates very deep into the skin. It goes below the epidermis which is known as the protective layer.

To make the situation even worse, when the radiation hits your dermis it also reaches your nerves and blood vessels. When that happens, you compromise your immune system. The UVA light also causes premature aging.

That's bad, but there's more.

When the UVA radiation gets all the way down to the dermis, it also leaves you vulnerable to melanoma.

Time to Bust Some Myths

True or false?

  1. Tanning beds are safe if used in moderation.
  2. Teenagers don't get skin cancer.
  3. Tanning beds are safer than the sun.
  4. Tanning beds are an excellent way to treat depression or the winter blues.
  5. A tanning bed will give you vitamin D.
  6. You need to lay in a tanning bed because you look better with a tan.
  7. You can't get a sunburn or sun poisoning from a tanning bed.
  8. Tanning beds are safe if you wear sunscreen.
  9. Getting a base tan in a tanning bed will prevent you from getting a sunburn.
  10. Smoking cigarettes is more dangerous than laying in tanning beds.
an illustration showing a man with a question and another man with an answer

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Did you answer yes to any of those questions?

If you did, then you have fallen for a myth. Every one of those statements is false.

It's time for some truth bombs my friends. Let's go over these statements one by one.

"It's safe to use tanning beds in moderation." Wrong!

Let me state this as clearly as I can. There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan when it comes to exposure to UV radiation.

Laying out in the sun to get a tan is dangerous. You are damaging your skin and increasing your risk of cancer every single time that you do it.

Thanks to the indoor tanning industry lying to us for years, many people believe that laying in a tanning bed is okay if you just do it for short periods. But something that you need to realize is that the UV radiation that you get from a tanning bed is much stronger than the sun.

The ugly truth is that every time you tan in the sun or a tanning bed, the UV radiation is damaging your skin. The tan itself is evidence of the damage.

a person relaxing on a sunbed with umbrella located on the beach

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And do you know what's worse?

Every time that you lay in that tanning bed you are accumulating more damage which can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, and brown spots. That's bad enough. But it's so much worse than that because it can also lead to skin cancer.


The Ugly Truth:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of agents that are cancer-causing to humans. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes and solar UV radiation.

Ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices were reclassified by the FDA from Class I (low risk) to Class II (moderate to high risk) devices as of September 2, 2014.

"If you're in your teens or twenties you

don't have to worry about skin cancer." Wrong!

Many people believe that skin cancer is an old person's disease that teens and twenty-somethings don't have to worry about too much.

That is absolutely false.

The fact is, anyone can get skin cancer, at any age. Your risk goes up exponentially when you lay in a tanning bed. In fact, many young women especially get skin cancer from tanning.

Listen to this:

Between 1980 and 2004, the annual incidence of invasive cutaneous melanoma, which happens to be the most deadly form of skin cancer, increased among white American women aged 15 to 39 by 50 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Between 1980 and 2004, the annual incidence of invasive cutaneous melanoma, which happens to be the most deadly form of skin cancer, increased among white American women aged 15 to 39 by 50 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

Risk Factor Increase

The most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29 is melanoma. Among teens and young adults aged 15 to 29, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer.

The Ugly Truth:

Women who have ever tanned indoors are six times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in their 20s than those who have never tanned indoors. At all ages, the more women tan indoors, the higher their risk of developing melanoma.

One study observing 63 women diagnosed with melanoma before age 30 found that 61 of them (97 percent) had used tanning beds.

diagnosed with melanoma

"Tanning beds are safer than tanning in the sun." Wrong!

This one is a widespread myth, and it couldn't be further from the truth.

The tanning industry has been telling us for decades that tanning beds are safer than tanning in the sun. Their messaging campaign has been successful too. It's shocking how many people believe this myth. But the truth is, they are dead wrong.

Doctors say that a short 20-minute session in the tanning bed is equivalent to spending an entire day out in the sun.

20 minutes session

The fact is, the UV radiation that you get from tanning beds is far more powerful than the radiation you get from the sun. Do you hear what I'm saying? Getting UV radiation from the sun is dangerous. Getting that UV radiation from a tanning bed is way worse.

If you are laying in a tanning bed, you are putting yourself more at risk for potentially deadly skin cancers.

And there's more.

Tanning beds also put you at high risk for eye damage, including melanoma of the eye.

The medical community is very clear about this. Tanning beds are not safer than the sun. In fact, they are much, much worse.

The research shows that the radiation from tanning beds is about 12 times stronger than the sun.

(designer_start) Please box this:

The Ugly Truth:

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.

"Tanning beds are a good way to treat the winter blues or depression." Wrong!

This myth hits close to home for me.

Twenty-five years ago I suffered from some depression in the winter months, otherwise known as winter blues. I was actually told by a doctor that I should try laying in a tanning bed for 10 minutes once a week.

Research has since shown us how wrong my doctor was. It is true that the tanning bed can help a little with the winter blues. But the tradeoff is not worth it.

a girl with red hair in the middle of raining snow

Image by Mimzy on Pixabay

Light therapy is a far better option than the tanning bed.

The Mayo Clinic says that light therapy is a safe treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Mayo says that a light therapy box mimics outdoor light or the light in a tanning bed. Experts believe that this type of light causes a chemical change in your brain which lifts your mood and decreases the symptoms of depression.

If you suffer from the winter blues, don't risk your health by laying in tanning beds. Instead, look for a light therapy box that offers exposure to at least 10,000 lux of light while emitting as little UV light as possible.

Directions for using a light therapy box:

  1. You should use light therapy within one hour of waking up in the morning.
  2. Use it for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.
  3. Keep the box at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters) from your face.
  4. You should use it with your eyes open, but don't look directly at the light.

The Ugly Truth:

Individuals who have used tanning beds 10 or more times in their lives have a 34 percent increased risk of developing melanoma compared with those who have never used tanning beds.

"You need to use a tanning bed to get enough vitamin D." Wrong!

This belief that you have to lay in tanning beds to get enough vitamin D is another lie promoted by the tanning industry. They don't want you to know that tanning beds are carcinogens that are just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. So they try to throw up a smokescreen saying that indoor tanning is healthy because of vitamin D.

The truth is:

You don't have to go anywhere near a tanning bed to get enough vitamin D.

You can get all the vitamin D that you need from eating a balanced diet. If you're not getting it from your food, you can also take supplements.

Here's what the experts say:

James Spencer, vice-chair and director of dermatologic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explains,

"You do not need to go to the beach or the tanning parlor to raise your vitamin D-and get wrinkles and skin cancer-when you can just simply eat a balanced diet and take vitamin supplements if you want. We don't really know that vitamin D prevents cancer. To say that vitamin D prevents cancer is wild speculation. To say that ultraviolet light causes skin cancer is a fact."

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Now I'm going to blow your mind.

Not only are tanning beds not necessary for vitamin D, but they also don't give you vitamin D at all!

Don't take my word for it.

Listen to what Dr. Debora S. Sarnoff, clinical professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine, has to say about it.

"A tanning bed will never provide you with the vitamin D that you need, nor is it safer than tanning outdoors. Not understanding the facts can literally mean the difference between life and death. Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation cause cell damage that can lead to skin cancer.

When you lie in an indoor tanning bed, you are exposed primarily to UVA, which penetrates deep into the surface of the skin, damaging the cells beneath and prematurely aging your skin. But it is UVB (the sun burning rays) — not UVA — which helps the skin make vitamin D, so you are increasing your risk of skin cancer without receiving any benefit!"

The Ugly Truth:

People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

"You need a tan to feel and look your best." Wrong!

The problem with this line of thought is that our image of beauty is contributing to a rise in skin cancer.

Now, this doesn't mean that you have to walk around looking pasty white. There are other ways of darkening your skin. Personally, I think that a fair complexion is just as beautiful as a tan. I wish more people could expand their image of real beauty.

But I understand that a lot of people feel more attractive when they have a tan. Does that mean that you have to lay in a tanning bed?


In a minute I'm going to discuss several safe alternatives to tanning beds. You can get that sun-kissed look without going anywhere near a deadly tanning bed.

The Ugly Truth:

Any history of indoor tanning increases the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma before age 40 by 69 percent.

"You can't get sunburned or sun poisoning 

from a tanning bed." Wrong!

This statement is just flat out wrong.

Not only can you get a sunburn or sun poisoning from a tanning bed, but it's also much easier to get burned from indoor tanning than it is from the sun.

When you get burned in the tanning bed, the UV radiation actually causes mutations in the DNA of your skin cells. Those mutations can lead to skin cancer.

Whether you get burned from the sun or a tanning bed, this short video will show what is happening to your skin. Every time that you fry your skin with UV radiation the damage increases. You will get damage even from just a tan. But if your skin burns it's even worse.

The Ugly Truth:

Those who have ever tanned indoors have a 67 percent increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 29 percent increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.

"Tanning beds are safe if you wear sunscreen." Wrong!

Most people understand the dangers of the sun. And they know to use sunscreen to protect themselves. So it would make logical sense that if sunscreen can shield you from dangerous UV radiation from the sun, it should also protect you if you wear it in the tanning bed, right?


Sunscreen is essential if you're going out in the sun. But it won't help you if you're in a tanning bed.

"Aside from the fact that using sunscreen in a tanning bed won't result in the bronzing of your skin that you are after, sunscreen is only effective at blocking natural UV rays—not the artificial ones emitted by tanning bed bulbs, which are sometimes stronger (and more dangerous) than the sun."

The Ugly Truth:

More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,200 melanomas.

"Getting a base tan in a tanning bed will prevent

you from getting a sunburn." Wrong!

According to the American Cancer Society, "A tan is the body's response to injury from UV rays, showing that damage has been done. It does little to protect you from future UV exposure."

The Mayo Clinic agrees.

Mayo says that the evidence does not support the myth that a base tan will prevent you from getting a sunburn.

close-up photo showing uneven color of skin on his shoulder

Image by Hans on Pixabay

A lot of people mistakenly believe that they need to lay in tanning beds to get a base tan before they go outside in the sun. They think that the base tan will stop the sun from burning their skin.

That is dead wrong. The Mayo Clinic says that getting a base tan indoors will NOT prevent you from burning in the sun.

That base tan is not sun protection.

The Ugly Truth:

The cost of direct medical care for skin cancer cases attributable to indoor tanning is $343.1 million annually in the U.S.

How Tanning Beds Change the Brain

In recent years, research has shown us some stunning things about tanning beds. One thing that we have learned is that people who frequently use tanning beds actually experience changes in their brain activity.

The changes in brain activity mimic the patterns of drug addiction.

Yes, really.

“What this shows is that the brain is in fact responding to UV light, and it responds in areas that are associated with reward,” said Dr. Bryon Adinoff, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and an author of the study“These are areas, particularly the striatum, that we see activated when someone is administered a drug or a high-value food like sugar.”

In one study, researchers examined brain activity in a group of people who frequently used tanning beds. They put the people through regular tanning sessions, and then, without telling the tanners, the researchers added a special filter that blocked only the UV light.

graphics showing how tanning bed affects the brain

Image by VSRao on Pixabay

Brain images showed that during regular tanning sessions, when the tanners got the UV rays, parts of the brain lighted up. It turns out the areas that lit up are the same areas implicated in drug addiction.

Now here's the interesting thing.

When the UV light was filtered out, those areas in the brain showed very little activity.

And even though the researchers didn't tell the tanners that they had applied a filter, all of the tanners could tell the difference immediately.

Tanning bed addiction is a real thing

Sounds crazy, right? Addiction to tanning beds?? Well, believe it or not, tanning bed addiction is a very real thing.

As we just discussed, indoor tanning changes your brain chemistry and activates parts of the brain associated with addiction.

Research shows that there is also a clear correlation between tanning beds, addiction, and depression.

"The study revealed a clear link between dependency on tanning beds and depression. About one in five women who used a tanning bed at least once in the past 12 months showed signs of tanning bed addiction. But those who also showed signs of depression were nearly four times as likely to be addicted to tanning beds."

This explains why some people, even when faced with the deadly truth about tanning beds, will continue to tan. Their addiction to tanning outweighs the risk of getting cancer.

We see this with other addictions, like cigarettes for example. You can warn a smoker all day that they will get cancer from smoking. Yet the person will continue to smoke anyway.

Safe Alternatives to Tanning Beds

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to avoid tanning beds altogether.

The other thing you should do is to wear sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 every time you go out in the sun.

The ugly truth is:

You're risking your health if you are tanning your skin with UV light. The sun and the tanning bed are both dangerous. I would suggest that you avoid both. But I know that some people will ignore the warnings and tan their skin anyway.

So, look:

If you just can't stay out of the UV light, then you should use natural sunlight. At least if you go out in the sun, you can protect yourself with sunscreen. That's far better than laying in a tanning bed.

I do understand the desire for that sun-kissed look. So I'm here to tell you some good news.

The good news is there are several safe alternatives to UV radiation if you have to have that golden tan.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Self-tanners make you orange!

I'll grant you that when they first came out, they didn't look very realistic. But oh how times have changed my friends!

And self-tanners aren't your only option.

Sunless tanning lotions

The great thing about sunless tanning lotions is that they come in a wide variety of colors and prices. You can get an expensive one at a department store. Or you could opt for a cheaper lotion from the drug store.

I have used both, and I can tell you:

More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. Self-tanners look different on different people, so you really have just to try them out to find the one that you like best.

In the past, some of the reasons that people didn't like self-tanners are because they turned the skin orange and smelled awful. But as I just told you, times have changed.

As more and more people have recognized the dangers of the sun and tanning beds, these products have undergone significant improvements. Now they work better, smell better, and look way more natural.

If you are careful with the application, you'll get an even looking tan.

The bonus is:

Instead of damaging your skin you're moisturizing it. And you'll look great to boot!


Another great alternative to tanning beds is airbrushing or spray tans.

A spray tan will give you nice even color that will last for about a week.

The benefit of the spray tan is that it's quick to apply. It takes a professional only 10 minutes to tan your whole body.

A downside of airbrushing is that it's more expensive than buying a bottle of sunless tanning lotion. But many people still prefer it because it's quick and convenient and it gives you an even golden bronze tan.

Natural sunlight

Okay, now let's talk about natural sunlight.

As we've discussed, UV radiation is dangerous. But the reason that I suggest it now is because if you wear sunscreen, it is safer than laying in a tanning bed.

Facts are facts:

Tanning beds are more than 10 times stronger than the sun. When you go out in the sun, you are getting 10 times fewer UV rays than if you laid in the tanning bed.

The key is the sunscreen.

If you choose this option make sure that you wear a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF factor. Apply it liberally. And reapply every two hours.

It will take longer to get a tan that way, but the sunscreen will at least give you some protection against premature aging and skin cancer.

If you just can't stay out of the UV light, at least be smart about it.


Towelettes are another safe option if you want a tan.

They are easier to use than self-tanning lotion. Towelettes are not nearly as messy.

Tanning towelettes come individually wrapped. You just wipe it over your skin and throw it out. Easy-peasy. And they are similarly priced to the lotions.


Another great option is a bronzer.

You can apply bronzer to your face for that sun-kissed look, and it won't damage your skin at all.

Cosmetic companies also make bronzers that you can use on your whole body.

Of course, unlike the other safe alternatives to tanning beds, cosmetics wash off easily at the end of the night. But they are indeed better for you than exposing your skin to UV radiation.

The Bottom Line

The ugly truth is that tanning beds are extremely dangerous. I would warn you against using them the same way that I would warn you against smoking cigarettes.

Both of them cause cancer.

Most people understand that about cigarettes. But far too many people still don't know the facts about tanning beds.

I know several people who gave up cigarettes years ago, yet they still go to the tanning bed.

I can't put it more simply than this. You are more likely to develop cancer from using a tanning bed than you are if you are smoking cigarettes. That's the truth.

When there are so many safe alternatives to tanning beds, why would you expose yourself to such a high risk?

Now we would love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments section below about your experience with tanning beds. And if you have a safe alternative that I didn't list, please share it with our readers. You could save more lives than just your own.

Stay healthy my friends!

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