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"Tan indoors with absolutely no harmful side effects"
"No burning, no drying, and no sun damage"
"Unlike the sun, indoor tanning will not cause skin cancer or skin aging"
You may have heard claims like these about indoor tanning and wondered
whether indoor tanning devices are truly a safe alternative to outdoor tanning.
But whether you tan outdoors in natural sunlight or indoors in a suntan salon,
tanning is not risk-free. Overexposure can cause eye injury, premature aging and
wrinkling of the skin, and increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers can be harmed if
advertising leads them to believe that they can get a tan without the harmful
effects of the sun. The information in this factsheet may help you understand
how tanning devices work and why the same health risks associated with outdoor
tanning are associated with indoor tanning. To help you minimize risks,
including those posed by indoor tanning, a checklist is provided at the end of
Whether you tan outdoors during the summer months or tan indoors exclusively,
you are increasing your chances of:
* developing skin cancer later in life
* suffering cataracts and retinal damage
* developing premature skin wrinkling
* developing ultraviolet light-induced skin rashes when you eat certain foods
or take some common medications, such as birth control pills or
If you tan year 'round, you obviously will increase your skin's exposure to
the dangers of ultraviolet rays. Being informed about how tanning devices work
can help you spot misleading claims and avoid skin damage.
The most popular device used in salons is a clamshell-like tanning bed. The
customer lies down on a Plexiglas surface and relaxes as lights from above and
below reach the body. Older devices generally used light sources that emitted
shortwave ultraviolet rays (UVB), often advertised as "tanning" rays, that
actually caused burning. Aware of the harmful effects of UVB radiation,
including the increased risk of skin cancer, salon owners began using tanning
beds that emit mostly longwave (UVA) light sources, which some claimed to be
safe. But the UVA rays also can be harmful to the skin because they penetrate so
deeply, as explained below.
You can make a more informed decision about indoor tanning if you learn how
to spot misleading tanning claims. The following section discusses why each of
four claims sometimes made about indoor tanning is misleading.
False Claim #1: "You can achieve a deep year-round tan with gentle,
comfortable, and safe UVA light."
To understand why doctors are concerned about tanning salons, you need to
understand how ultraviolet rays can affect your skin. Shortwave ultraviolet rays
called UVB can burn the outer layer of skin; longwave ultraviolet rays called
UVA penetrate more deeply and can weaken the skin's inner connective tissue.
Long-term exposure to the sun, to artificial sources of ultraviolet light, or
to both, contributes to the risk of the three kinds of skin cancer: basal cell,
an otherwise benign skin cancer that can cause scarring; squamous cell, which is
usually benign but which can spread through the body if left untreated; and
melanoma, one of the most fatal kinds of cancer.
False Claim #2: "No harsh glare, so no goggles or eye shades are
Studies show that too much exposure to ultraviolet rays, including UVA rays, can damage the retina. If you're wearing contacts, it can also be harmful to your eyes. Over-exposure can burn the cornea, and repeated exposure over many years can change the structure of an eye lens so that it begins to cloud, forming a cataract. If left untreated, cataracts result in blindness. The Food and Drug Administration requires tanning salons to direct all customers to wear protective eye goggles. Closing your eyes, wearing ordinary sunglasses, or using cotton wads are not strong enough measures to protect the cornea from the intensity of UV radiation in tanning devices.
Long-term exposure to natural sunlight also can result in eye damage, but, in the sun, you will be more aware that your eyelids are burning than when you tan indoors. The skin exposed to indoor UV lights remains cool to the touch. In addition, the intensity of lights used in tanning devices is much greater--and potentially more hazardous to your eyes--than the intensity of UV rays in natural sunlight.
False Claim #3: "Tan year 'round without the harmful side effects often
associated with natural sunlight." Exposure to tanning salon rays increases the
damage caused by sunlight. This occurs because ultraviolet light actually thins
the skin, making it less able to heal.
Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays also results in premature aging. A
"healthy" looking tan is, in fact, damaged skin that is more likely to wrinkle
and sag than skin that has not been tanned. Over time, you may notice certain
undesirable changes in the way your skin looks and heals. According to some skin
specialists, skin that has a dry, wrinkled, leathery appearance early in middle
age is a consequence of UV exposure that occurred in youth.
False Claim # 4: "No danger in exposure or burning." Whether you tan indoors
or outdoors, studies show the combination of ultraviolet rays and some
medicines, birth control pills, cosmetics, and soaps may accelerate skin burns
or produce painful adverse skin reactions, such as rashes. In addition, tanning
devices may induce such common light-sensitive skin ailments as cold sores.
If you do choose to tan, either outdoors or indoors, at a salon or at home,
you may want to use this checklist to help you minimize some of the associated
If you do choose to tan, it is important to limit your exposure to avoid
burning. If you tan with a device:
Does the device manufacturer or the salon staff provide recommended exposure
limits for your skin type?
Is there a timer you can set on the tanning device that automatically shuts
off the lights or somehow signals you regarding your exposure time?
Remember: Exposure time affects burning. Total UV dosage, whether received in
a few large doses or in many smaller ones over a long period of time, can cause
skin cancer and premature aging. Your age at the time of exposure also is a
critical factor relative to burning. Studies suggest that children and teens are
harmed more by equivalent amounts of UVB rays than are adults. The earlier you
start tanning, the earlier skin injury may occur.
When using a tanning device, it is important to use eye protection because UV
light can harm the corneas without your being aware of any injury.
Are safety goggles provided and is their use mandatory?
Do the goggles fit snugly?
Does the salon sterilize the goggles after each use to prevent the spread of
Remember: Artificial UV light is more intense and, therefore, potentially
more damaging than that found in sunlight.
Whether you choose to tan indoors or outdoors, it is important to consider
your medical history.
Are you undergoing treatment for lupus or diabetes, or are you susceptible to
cold sores? These conditions can be severely aggravated if you are exposed to
ultraviolet radiation from tanning devices, sunlamps, or natural sunlight.
Do you use antihistamines, tranquilizers, birth control pills, and other
medications that are known to increase the likelihood of rashes, sunburns, and
other allergic-type reactions when used with the sun or artificial light?
If you tan at a salon, does it maintain such information about the
medications and the treatment you are taking on a file with your medical history
and does the staff update it periodically?
Remember: Check with your personal physician or other health-care provider if
you have questions about possible side effects associated with tanning.
If you tan indoors, you also may spend some time in the sun. If you do, you
may benefit from using sunscreens with high sun protection factor (SFP) numbers,
such as 15 or greater. The SPF number gives you some idea how long you can
remain in the sun before burning. If, for example, you would normally burn in 10
minutes without sunscreen, applying a 15 SPF sunscreen may provide you with
about 150 minutes in the sun before burning. Swimming and perspiration reduce
the actual SPF value for many sunscreens.
Unfortunately, even sunscreens with high SPF numbers offer you less than full
protection. Sunlight exposes you to two kinds of ultraviolet light, called UVA
and UVB. Both can cause skin damage, including wrinkling and skin cancer.
SPF sunscreen numbers indicate sunburn protection from UVB rays only. There
is no way, then, to tell how much UVA protection you are getting. Some
researchers estimate that the level of protection in many products advertising
UVA protection, even those with high SPF numbers, may be equivalent to an SPF 3
or 4. To learn more about sunscreen protection, ask for a free copy of the FTC's
brochure, Sunscreens. Write: Public Reference, Federal Trade Commission,
Washington, DC 20580.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
share responsibilities in the regulation of sunlamps and tanning devices. FDA is
responsible for the labeling of the devices; the FTC is responsible for
investigating false, misleading, and deceptive advertising claims. When these
agencies determine that labels or advertisements are not based on valid
scientific facts, they have the jurisdiction to take corrective action. The FDA
also can remove the products from the salon or from the marketplace.
If you have questions or complaints about claims made in tanning device
advertising, write: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington,
FTC CONSUMER & SMALL BUSINESS ADVISORY - PUBLIC DOCUMENT
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