If you’re a regular reader, you may be familiar with our post on why you should wear sunscreen, especially during the summer. But, that article’s about avoiding sunburn and skin cancer. We didn’t discuss tanning. That’s safe… right?

Whether you’re tanning using the sun or a tanning bed, there are risks. While a tan may make you feel more confident or good looking, you should be aware of the hazards. Even if you’ve applied sunscreen, tanning regularly can be dangerous.

Risks of Tanning

The risks of tanning and sunburn are clear cut. Chief among them is developing the most common cancer in the United States, skin cancer. Several skin cancers can be linked to tanning, including melanomas and basal cell and squamous cancers. The other significant risk of sun-exposure is unnatural skin aging. Many studies indicate it’s the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light that can lead to skin cancer, aging, wrinkles, and fine lines on the face and skin.

The more often you tan, and expose your skin to UV radiation, the higher your chances are of developing skin cancer or experiencing unnatural aging.

While sunscreen can protect you from much of the sun damage, regular tanning is dangerous. After all, you’re purposefully damaging your skin. The more often you tan, and expose your skin to UV radiation, the higher your chances are of developing skin cancer or experiencing unnatural aging.

But Indoor Tanning is Safe, Right?

Unlike natural sunlight, indoor tanning (e.g., at a salon) is in a controlled setting. The machines are built to safely tan you, right?

That’s basically what the American Suntanning Association promotes. They claim that the supposed fearmongering from dermatologists is just that. It would be great if that were true. Unfortunately, the “Sun Scare” messaging seems to have been a PR campaign, by the ASA, against the mountain of evidence that indoor tanning is unhealthy for you (akin to the tobacco industry’s positive PR campaign). Make no mistake, skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and the diagnosis rate is on the rise.

In a post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention themselves definitively state that indoor tanning is not safe.

The dangerous and irresponsible myths out there have led many people and organizations to weigh in on the issue. In a post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention themselves definitively state that indoor tanning is not safe. Others even claim that tanning beds can be more dangerous than natural tanning. Federal, state, and local governments have all made moves to limit indoor tanning device use for people under the age of 18.

What About Building a Base Tan?

The fact is there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Even a base tan can be dangerous, since you only tan after enough UV rays have absorbed into your skin to alter your DNA.

One myth about tanning is that a base tan is healthy because it protects your skin from burning further. But to get that tan, you have to damage your skin. Any amount of tanning is a sign of UV damage to the skin, and any tan-caused damage to your DNA could lead to skin cancer.

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Does all this mean that you shouldn’t tan at all or hide away from the sun? No, we certainly shouldn’t become mole people. Instead, we should remember that one of the mantras of health is that moderation is key.

If you like looking a little tanner, you could try a spray tan or a sunless self-tanner. If you’re planning on spending some time outside or want to tan naturally, just remember to apply and reapply sunscreen. It may also be worth discussing tanning and skin health with a dermatologist who can give you personalized advice.