Tanning lamps have become a popular method of maintaining a year-round tan, but their effects can be as dangerous as tanning outdoors.
Like the sun, the lamps used in tanning booths and beds emit UV radiation. While most lamps emit both UVA and UVB radiation, some emit only UVA.
Some experts argue that artificial tanning is less dangerous because the intensity of light and the time spent tanning are controlled. There is limited evidence to support these claims. On the other hand, sunlamps may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same intensity every day of the year - something that is unlikely for the sun because of winter weather and cloud cover. They can also be more dangerous because people can expose their entire bodies at each session, which would be difficult to do outdoors.
Using tanning lamps, booths, or beds:
If you use indoor tanning equipment, follow these steps to reduce the dangers of UV exposure.
- Be sure to wear the goggles provided, making sure they fit snugly and are not cracked.
- Start slowly and use short exposure times to build up a tan over time.
- DON'T use the maximum exposure time the first time you tan because you could get burned, and burns are thought to be related to melanoma.
- Follow manufacturer-recommended exposure times for your skin type. Check the label for exposure times.
- Stick to your time limit.
- After a tan is developed, tan no more than once a week. Depending on your skin type, you may even be able to maintain your tan with one exposure every 2-3 weeks.
Because sunburn takes 6 to 48 hours to develop, you may not realize your skin is burned until it is too late.
FDA has a radiation safety performance standard for sunlamp products. All sunlamp products must have a warning label, an accurate timer, an emergency stop control, and include an exposure schedule and protective goggles.
You should NOT use a tanning bed or lamp if:
- You sunburn easily and do not tan. Skin that does not tan in the sun will probably not tan under a sunlamp.
- You have a family history of melanoma.
- You get frequent cold sores. UV radiation may cause them to appear more frequently due to immune system suppression.
- You are taking medicines that can make you more sensitive to UV rays. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Sunless tanning delivers a faux glow by coating your skin with the chemical dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA interacts with the dead surface cells in the epidermis to darken skin color and simulate a tan, and the result usually lasts for several days.
While the FDA allows DHA to be "externally applied" for skin coloring, there are restrictions on its use. DHA should not be inhaled, ingested, or exposed to areas covered by mucous membranes including the lips, nose, and areas in and around the eye (from the top of the cheek to above the eyebrow) because the risks, if any, are unknown.
Most sunless tanning sprays and lotions do not contain a skin protecting sunscreen. Make sure you apply an even coat of sunscreen to all exposed skin at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.
The FDA is aware that some tanning salons sell packages with both sunless tanning spray and UV tanning. The risk of combining exposure to UV radiation from either the sun or indoor tanning devices followed by sunless tanning sprays (or vice versa) is unknown in humans.
Using Sunless Tanners:
Before using a sunless tanning booth, ask the tanning salon these questions to make sure you will be protected:
- Will my eyes and the area surrounding them be protected?
- Will my nose, mouth, and ears be protected?
- Will I be protected from inhaling the tanning spray through my nose or mouth?
If the answer to any of these questions is "no," look for another salon. Otherwise you are putting yourself at risk for exposure to chemicals with potentially dangerous effects.
You should also take precautions if you're applying a self-tanner at home. Most self tanners contain the same DHA used in sunless tanning salons. Self-tanners are available in many forms, including lotions, creams, and sprays that you apply and let soak in to your skin. Follow the directions on the self-tanner label carefully and take care not to get the self-tanner in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
You may have seen ads that promise to give you a too-good-to-be-true golden glow just by swallowing a pill. These so-called tanning pills are unsafe and none are approved by the FDA.
Some tanning pills contain the color additive canthaxanthin. When large amounts of canthaxanthin are ingested, it can turn the skin a range of colors from orange to brown. It can also cause serious health problems including liver damage; hives; and an eye disorder called canthaxanthin retinopathy, in which yellow deposits form in the retinas.