It’s hard to forget Patricia “Tan Mom” Krentcil, the New Jersey woman who made headlines after being charged with child endangerment when authorities suspected she took her 5-year-old daughter to a tanning salon. Claiming to be addicted to tanning beds, it showed in her skin — which was unnaturally dark and crazy damaged. You would think that seeing Tan Mom would be enough to get people out of tanning beds forever, but apparently not. Here’s some straight talk about the dangers of indoor tanning.
Myth #1: Indoor tanning is safer than outdoor tanning
Truth: The World Health Organization has declared indoor tanning devices to be cancer-causing agents that are in the same category as tobacco! The reality is that indoor tanning exposes you to both UVA and UVB rays, and overexposure can damage the skin and can lead to melanomas, benign and malignant. Indoor tanning — whether it’s a tanning bed, booth or sunlamp — is also linked with those same dangers.
And, in either case, the younger you are, the more dangerous tanning can be. People who start tanning before the age of 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of getting non-malignant melanomas, that are treatable with lasers, and malignant melanomas which can also come from sources like genetic predisposition, lifestyle factors, prolonged bad diet and stress, environmental exposure to toxins, etc.
Myth #2: The base tan I get from indoor tanning protects me from sunburn
Truth: Color is your skin’s response to injury. A tan or a burn is when skin cells are being heated up or damaged by UV rays. They respond by producing more pigment. The truth is the deeper your skin tone, the more vitamin D you need and the longer you can stay in the sun. The lighter you are, the less you should be out, and the more you will color or burn and the more damage the sun can do.
Myth #3: I get my vitamin D from indoor tanning
Truth: Yes, vitamin D is critical to good health, but you don’t need to get it from tanning indoors. A daily dose of natural sunshine – I know, I’m WAY controversial here – is the only way to go! Getting 20 minutes of good, old fashioned sunshine every day is the only way to ensure you’re naturally producing enough vitamin D. And folks, vitamin D deficiency is no joke (I should know, since I’ve had it myself).
Vitamin D supports your healthy immune system and helps fight off sickness, and a deficiency in this vitamin is one crucial reason more of us get sick in the winter than in the summer (as well as an all-time high number of us are complaining of things like “chronic fatigue” and strange aches and pains in our bodies, uh duh!).
Myth #4: I use a tanning “booster cream” that helps me tan faster, so I spend less time tanning
Truth: These tanning products, many developed just for the indoor tanning industry, are designed to cause your skin to redden so you think you are getting faster results than you actually are. They are made with toxic synthetic chemicals like methyl nicotinate, propylene glycol and butylene glycol, and of course, petrochemical preservatives and parabens. These booster creams often trigger allergic reactions, tingling of the skin and blotchy patches. Not only are these bad for your skin, these products are bad for your long-term health. Like everything we put on our skin, 60 percent of these ingredients are directly absorbed into our bodies. It may take years before we realize the health effects of these chemicals, but we will.
Myth #5: Spray tan is safer than indoor tanning
Truth: People think that the popular “spray-on” tan is a safer alternative to the tanning under ultraviolet lights. However, spray tans are loaded with toxic, synthetic chemicals, including dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which some studies suggest could possibly alter and damage DNA.
The FDA approved DHA for “outdoor” use as an ingredient in tanning lotion back in the 1970s. Remember those tanning lotions that turned your skin a delightful shade of orange? That’s DHA at work! DHA shouldn’t be eaten or inhaled, yet without protective gear during spray tanning, there’s the potential to get these toxic chemicals into your eyes, lungs and your bloodstream. Some salons even discourage the use of protective gear like nose plugs or goggles, since “you won’t get an all-over tan.” There are a few new natural self-tanners on the market nowadays… now they are a bit more subtle perhaps, but they are also far healthier! Check out my favorite: Jane Iredale’s: Tantasia Self Tanner for $36.
There’s a reason why more than 30 states restrict access to indoor tanning equipment either through banning their use by minors or requiring parental consent. These indoor tanning salons aggressively market to teens, with “prom night specials” and other promotional offers. Just know that there is no such thing as a “safe” UVA or UVB tanning device with “no harmful rays” or “no adverse effects.”
As with anything — be it synthetic ingredients, drinking or any choice we make that we know has risks associated with it — know that everything has a risk and that moderation is key. Do what makes you feel good, be conscious of addictive behaviors and take good care of yourself, being kind to the one body you’ve got.