Patients often ask me when it is safe to use a tanning bed after their surgeries and for years I have answered, “Never!” Most of the time patients think I am being too cautious but I have always explained the issue of healing tissue’s sensitivity to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation-that’s the type of light that is responsible for your skin developing a tan. I explain that tanning beds do decrease the amount of UVB light exposure when compared to sunlight and that is the type of ultraviolet radiation that is chiefly responsible the increased risk of developing certain types of skin cancer-most commonly Basal Cell and Squamous Cell skin cancers. I also explain that the UVA radiation that is used in tanning beds is the type of radiation that is responsible for increased risk of developing melanoma-the most deadly form of skin cancer. UVA rays as also more aggressive in causing your skin to AGE when compared to the UVB rays. The UV rays-both UVA and UVB- in tanning beds are also much more intense than normal sunlight.
Well, a new international study published in Lancet Oncology has confirmed what I have been saying and sadly proves that I have actually been under-stating the risks of tanning beds. Using a tanning bed before age thirty (30) increase your risk of developing a skin cancer by greater than 75%!!! This puts tanning beds right up there with using tobacco as far as increasing your risks of developing cancer. Also, if patients don’t use the proper eye protection-(closing your eyes or putting a loose fitting cover over the eyes will not work)-the risk of developing cancers of the eye jump dramatically. Given the huge increase in size of the tanning bed industry, doctors now can expect to see a similar jump in skin cancer patients and these patients will be much younger than the ones we traditionally associate with skin cancers.
So, when my patients ask me if it is safe to use a tanning bed, I will still say no and now I can prove it.
Herluf Lund MD