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 advocates 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 a constant intensity every day of the year - something that is unlikely for the sun because of winter weather and cloud cover. Sunlamps can also be more dangerous because people tend to expose more of their bodies to sunlamps than when outdoors.
Given the risk from tanning, the FDA in 2014 reclassified the devices as class II, requiring special controls and premarket review. The special controls require, among others, that labeling be included on sunlamp products stating that the products should not be used by anyone younger than 18, and will require specific warnings be included in certain promotional materials for sunlamp products and UV lamps.
Because people under age 18 are especially at risk of skin cancer from use of these devices, the FDA is now proposing to restrict tanning facility operators from allowing use of the device by consumers under 18 years old, and operators must obtain a signed, FDA-prescribed risk acknowledgement certification before use that states that they have been informed of the risks to health that may result from use of sunlamp products.
Using tanning lamps, booths, or beds:
If you use indoor tanning equipment, follow these steps to reduce the dangers of UV exposure.
- Don’t use indoor tanning equipment if you are under 18 years old.
- 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.
- Even if you follow these safety instructions, you are still at risk for skin cancer if you use indoor UV tanning devices.
Because sunburn takes 6 to 48 hours to develop, you may not realize your skin is burned until it is too late.
FDA is proposing to revise its electronic product performance standard (21 CFR 1040.20) 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. The proposed revision updates and strengthens these requirements. The revised warning label would strengthen the language and make it easier to read.
You should NOT use a tanning bed or lamp if:
- You are under 18 years old.
- You sunburn easily and do not tan. Skin that does not tan in the sun will probably not tan under a sunlamp and is at higher risk of developing skin cancer.
- You or your family has a history of skin cancer.
- 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.
- You have skin lesions or open wounds.
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.