Working in the cancer industry, you become hyper-aware of carcinogens and cancer causing agents. While many consumer goods carry some risk, others can be extremely dangerous: the tanning bed trend is one of them. Often caused by an unfortunate stance on what beauty is perceived to be, many young people feel the need to spend countless hours each year participating in indoor tanning. This practice is known to greatly increase the risk of skin cancers. Despite this fact, many individuals (young women, especially) will actively use these cancer-causing agents year-round. Let’s take a minute to compare tanning beds with natural outdoor tanning:
Concentrated Versus Non-concentrated
The average tanning bed produces approximately the same amount of UBV light as the sun and upwards of three times the amount of UVA light (source: Harvard Medical School). However, this is compounded by the fact that indoor tanning is in concentrated bursts. This causes faster mutations in the body, as the ultraviolet light changes the configuration of human DNA. While neither method of tanning is safe (as both permanently increase your cancer risk), the use of tanning beds and concentrated delivery of UV light are much more dangerous.
Over 30 million Americans frequent tanning salons, each year (source: Skin Cancer Foundation). Oftentimes, these people are subject to SAD: seasonal effective disorder. The proper light-based treatment of this is a light box that emits visible, non-UV light. By using tanning beds in their formative teen years, many people become addicted to tanning and show the same signs of dependence as with other addictive substances. Tanning early in life is a large indicator for continued use into adulthood and a steady increase in cancer risk. Studies are still underway to define whether or not UV withdrawal is a condition similar to substance withdrawal.
Burning Frequency and the Base Tan
Those with a lighter skin tone are more likely to use in door tanning, despite the fact that they are at the highest natural risk. These individuals burn easily and are extremely vulnerable to intense UV light. Contracting sunburns much more easily, they greatly amplify this risk by tanning artificially. The idea of the “base tan” also permeates Western society, especially before going on vacation. However, there is no such thing as a base tan: at most, it gives the same protection as SPF 4. Tanning in general causes lifelong cancer risk, even before burning. Tanning occurs as your skin is reacting to internal mutations: it’s your body telling you to stop!
Lack of Preventative Measures
While going out for a day in the sun encourages many people to apply sunscreen, tanning beds and salons encourage people to use products designed to maximize tanning, without providing adequate protection. Instead of SPF30+ broad-spectrum cream, basic coconut oil or hazardous bronzers are applied. By doing so, indoor tanning further increases risk, by discouraging people from using proper sun protection. Despite tanning beds being associated with a basic risk increase of 50% for basal cell carcinoma and a 100% increase in risk for squamous cell carcinoma (source: Harvard Medical School), this trend persists.
It is clear that tanning has become an epidemic, in North America. Several states and provinces have taken it upon themselves to ban tanning under a certain age yet these demands are often not followed or reinforced. The Government of Canada has recently announced that cancer warning labels will be required on all beds. While certainly a step in the right direction, we have a long way to go.