The Dangers of Tanning Beds and Sun Tanning: Understanding the Risks and Signs of Skin Cancer

September 19, 2023
William Hanner D.O.

While many people enjoy using indoor tanning beds to keep their skin tan throughout the entire year, these tanning beds can also pose a significant number of risks. Sun tanning can cause significant damage to your skin cells, increasing your risk of developing a wide variety of conditions.

Take a look at some helpful information about the dangers of tanning beds and sun tanning, and remember to reach out to your doctor with any questions or concerns. 

Dispelling the Myths About Indoor Tanning Beds

Before diving into some of the dangers related to indoor tanning beds, it is important to dispel a few common myths when it comes to tanning beds. First, many people believe that using an indoor tanning bed is safer than laying in the sun outside. In reality, that is not the case. Indoor tanning beds may actually expose you to more UV radiation, which actually makes it more dangerous for your skin. Indoor tanning beds use UVA and UVB radiation, so both forms of sun tanning are dangerous.

Furthermore, indoor tanning is not a safer source of vitamin D. While it is important for you to spend some time in the sun to ensure you have adequate levels of vitamin D, that does not make indoor tanning beds safer. The World Health Organization classifies UV tanning beds as a Class 1 human carcinogen for a reason, so you should talk to your doctor if you are looking for safer ways to increase your vitamin D levels.

Tanning Beds Can Increase the Risk of Different Types of Skin Cancer

One of the biggest risks of using indoor tanning beds regularly is that they can significantly increase your risk of developing different types of skin cancer. That is because both sun tanning and indoor tanning beds use UV radiation to provide people with the results they are looking for.

Over time, continuous exposure to this type of radiation can damage the DNA of your skin cells, which may increase your risk of developing cancer. Because DNA damage might not lead to cancer for decades, indoor tanning beds can be particularly harmful for people under the age of 18. That is why many locations have banned the use of indoor tanning beds by children.

Furthermore, research conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an important arm of the WHO, has shown that indoor tanning beds can dramatically increase the chances of someone developing two deadly forms of skin cancer called melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Because there has been an alarming increase in the rate of skin cancer development among younger individuals, it is more important than ever for people to stay away from indoor tanning beds. 

The Risk of Skin Cancer: Signs To Note 

The prognosis of skin cancer may improve if it is diagnosed earlier. Therefore, everyone must remain vigilant for some of the most common signs and symptoms of skin cancer.

A few signs of skin cancer include:

  • A new mole or spot on the skin that has asymmetrical borders.
  • New spots or moles that appear after the teenage years.
  • Moles and growth of the skin that appear to change size.
  • Spots and moles that change color.
  • Any new skin growth that has a crust on it, bleeds, or itches.
  • A new mole or skin spot that hurts. 

It is critical to get these skin issues examined as quickly as possible. The sooner a doctor can intervene, the better the prognosis might be. 

Sun Tanning Can Cause Other Skin Problems as Well

Using an indoor tanning bed can lead to other potential skin issues as well. A few potential concerns include:

Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may even develop an allergic reaction. Some people are more sensitive to UV radiation than others, and it could cause an allergic reaction to develop on the surface of the skin. People may notice itching, scratching, and red blotchy rashes that appear after using a tanning bed. 

Eye Damage

Extreme, continuous exposure UV radiation can also increase someone's chances of developing cataracts. In some cases, the eye damage caused by indoor tanning beds and UVA radiation could be irreversible.

Immune Suppression

Research has shown that UVB radiation could damage the ability of the immune system to function properly. The immune system is responsible for protecting the body against viruses and bacteria, so immune damage could make it more likely for someone to get sick.

Damage To Skin Elasticity

Sun tanning can also cause the skin to appear leathery. That is because indoor radiation could cause damage to skin elasticity, causing it to wrinkle at a younger age. This damage might not show up for years after sun tanning, so it is better for people to stay away from indoor tanning beds. 

Avoid Indoor Tanning Beds: See a Doctor To Prevent Skin Cancer

This is just a brief overview of a few of the many risks posed by sun tanning. While regular exposure to UV radiation of all types, including UV radiation from tanning beds, can increase someone's chances of developing skin cancer, there are ways to prevent skin cancer as well.

It is important for everyone to schedule an appointment with their primary care doctor from time to time. A doctor may identify and address health issues that may have otherwise been overlooked. Then, when you need specialty care to maximize the health of your skin, rely on the team from Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute to help you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!


Banerjee SC, Hay JL, et al. “Quitting the ‘cancer tube’: A qualitative examination of the process of indoor tanning cessation.” Transl Behav Med. 2014; 4(2): 209-19.,today%20by%20The%20Lancet%20Oncology%20.

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