Both the sun and tanning beds emit UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays, which hit the superficial layer of the skin, have a shorter wavelength than UVA rays, which penetrate deeply into the dermis. As a result, many people incorrectly think that UVB-emitting tanning beds are safer for them than traditional UVA beds; however, UVB beds have long been associated with serious health effects.
While the rays from a UVB bed will penetrate less deeply into the skin, unprotected exposure to these rays can lead to the premature aging of the skin and those using the beds will start to see wrinkles sooner as the rays can cause damage to the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin, dermal blood vessels, and other skin structures. Exposure can also cause unsightly, blotchy skin discoloration. Cataracts can also be caused by exposure in the beds. Another lesser-known side effect of UVB beds is that the immune system can become suppressed. Despite the fact that the UVB layers do not reach the dermis, overexposure can cause sunburn and exposure is the number one contributor to skin cancers, including melanoma.
The World Health Organization has long recommended that no one use a tanning bed for cosmetic purposes and currently has tanning beds listed as a known human carcinogen.1 This same declaration was also made by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, which placed tanning beds in the same cancer-causing category as tobacco.2 The American Academy of Dermatology's research shows that excessive ultraviolet radiation can lead to skin cancer, both from UVA and UVB rays.3
Advocates of tanning beds have argued that they are less dangerous than the sun because the intensity and time of exposure can be controlled; however, there has been no evidence to support these claims. Tanning beds can be more dangerous than the sun because they are used at a high intensity every day of the year and the sun's intensity varies based on the time of day, season, and cloud cover.
No one will argue with the need for vitamin D as deficiency has been linked to colon and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, depression, insulin resistance, obesity, and other problems. With the sun being its main source, clients should enjoy 15 minutes, at most, of natural sunlight without sunscreen to get their daily dose. They can also add foods that are fortified with vitamin D into their daily diet. A supplement is also a great alternative. A person does not need a tanning bed to integrate this essential nutrient into their body.
1 World Health Organization. (2003). Artificial tanning sunbeds: Risks and guidance. Geneva: Author.
2 United States Department of Health and Human
Services. (2016, September 8). Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays.
3 American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.). Indoor tanning.