Q: Tanning is part of my summer routine. I spend a lot of time by the pool in the sun, tanning naturally, and I've been to tanning beds before. However, one of my friends recently told me that tanning in any capacity can cause severe skin damage. Is this true? Aren't tanning beds better than lying out in the sun for hours?
A: Tanning can result in skin damage that contributes to risk for skin cancers. It's not just burning that contributes to this risk. The damage tanning does adds up over time. Both UV-A and UV-B rays are harmful to the skin's natural composition, and damage from these rays can lead to skin cancer. Additionally, these rays can harm skin's collagen, resulting in skin aging. Any anti-aging cream or treatment cannot fully recover what is lost through tanning.
Tanning beds are not better for your skin. Research indicates that indoor tanning can increase the risk for melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. The UV rays used in the tanning bed cause damage just the same as lying outside does. Additionally, people still report getting burns and eye injuries from tanning beds. The risks do not vanish simply because you are inside. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot gain enough vitamin D in a tanning bed to offset outside sources. A tanning lamp primarily emits UV-A light, which does not increase vitamin D production. So a tanning bed provides no additional benefit and can ultimately cause more harm than help.
Taking care of your skin by using SPF 30 or higher sunscreen is the best protection against harmful skin damage. If you absolutely must have a "healthy glow" to your skin, try using a safe self-tanner, rather than relying on lying out in the sun or tanning beds, as both are harmful to your skin and increase your risk for more detrimental health problems. However, please recognize that self-tanner is not a replacement for sunscreen and the best skin is healthy skin, protected from the sun.
Dr. Nita Shumaker is a specialist in pediatrics at Galen North Pediatrics and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.