The Risks of Tanning (2023)

  • Sunburn
  • Sun Tan
  • Premature Aging/Photoaging
  • Skin Cancer
  • Actinic or Solar Keratoses
  • Eye Damage
    • Photokeratitis
    • Cataracts
  • Immune System Suppression


What it is:

Sunburn, also called erythema, is one of the most obvious signs of UV exposure and skin damage. Often marked by redness and peeling (usually after a few days), sunburn is a form of short-term skin damage.

Why it happens:

When UV rays reach your skin, they damage cells in the epidermis. In response, your immune system increases blood flow to the affected areas. The increased blood flow is what gives sunburn its characteristic redness and makes the skin feel warm to the touch. At the same time, the damaged skin cells release chemicals that send messages through the body until they are translated as a painful burning sensation by the brain.

White blood cells, which help protect you from infection and disease, attack and remove the damaged skin cells. It is this process of removing damaged cells that can cause sunburned skin to itch and peel.


The earliest signs of sunburn are skin that looks flushed, is tender or painful, or gives off more heat than normal. Unfortunately, if your skin tone is medium to dark you may not notice any obvious physical signs until several hours later. It can take 6 - 48 hours for the full effects of sunburn to appear.


The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends treating mild sunburn with cool baths, over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, and aspirin to ease pain and swelling.

Severe sunburn should be treated as a medical emergency and examined by a doctor right away. Severe sunburn is often characterized by a large area of red, blistered skin with a headache, fever, or chills.

The Bottom Line:

Sunburn can be a very painful effect of UV exposure. Studies have shown a link between severe sunburn and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Pay careful attention to protecting yourself from UV rays.

Sun Tan

What it is:

There is no such thing as a safe tan. The increase in skin pigment, called melanin, which causes the tan color change in your skin is a sign of damage.

Why it happens:

(Video) How Safe are Tanning Beds?

Once skin is exposed to UV radiation, it increases the production of melanin in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. Melanin is the same pigment that colors your hair, eyes, and skin. The increase in melanin may cause your skin tone to darken over the next 48 hours.


Skin tones that are capable of developing a tan, typically skin types II through V, will probably darken in tone within two days.

The Bottom Line:

Evidence suggests that tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. And, contrary to popular belief, getting a tan will not protect your skin from sunburn or other skin damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin provides a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of about 2 to 4; far below the minimum recommended SPF of 15.

Premature Aging

What it is:

Sometimes referred to as “photoaging,” premature aging is the result of unprotected UV exposure. It takes the form of leathery, wrinkled skin, and dark spots.

Why it happens:

Although the causes of premature aging are not always clear, unprotected exposure to harmful UV rays break down the collagen and elastin fibers in healthy young skin, and cause wrinkles and loosened folds. Frequent sunburns or hours spent tanning can result in a permanent darkening of the skin, dark spots, and a leathery texture.


  • Wrinkles
  • Dark spots
  • Leathery skin


A dermatologist or plastic surgeon can develop a treatment plan based on your needs. Treatments can include chemical peels, dermabrasion, and skin fillers.

The Bottom Line:

Premature aging is a long-term side effect of UV exposure, meaning it may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan. Avoiding UV exposure is essential to maintaining healthy skin.

(Video) Clare Oliver's final warning about the dangers of tanning | 60 Minutes Australia

More Information on Skin Aging

Skin Cancer

What it is:

There are two main types of skin cancer:

Melanoma is the less common, but more dangerous form of skin cancer, and accounts for most of the deaths due to skin cancer each year. Melanoma is cancer that begins in the epidermal cells that produce melanin (melanocytes). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) melanoma is almost always curable when detected in its early stages.

Non-melanomas (basal celland squamous cellcarcinomas) occur in the basal or squamous cells located at the base of the epidermis, both inside and outside the body. Non-melanomas often develop in sun-exposed areas of the body, including the face, ears, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), offers a checklist to help determine your risk of developing skin cancer: What is Your Risk? Checklist.

Why it happens:

Predisposition to skin cancer can be hereditary, meaning it is passed through the generations of a family through genes. There is also strong evidence suggesting that exposure to UV rays, both UVA and UVB, can cause skin cancer.

UV radiation may promote skin cancer in two different ways:

  • By damaging the DNA in skin cells, causing the skin to grow abnormally and develop benign or malignant growths.
  • By weakening the immune system and compromising the body’s natural defenses against aggressive cancer cells.


Performing regular self skin cancer examsis a good way to protect yourself against skin cancer. The following are possible signs of skin cancer, and should be checked by a doctor.

  • Any changes on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, birthmark, or other dark pigmentation
  • Unexplained scaliness, oozing, or bleeding on the skin's surface
  • A spot on the skin that suddenly feels itchy, tender, or painful


Skin cancer treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the cancer. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan based on your needs.

The Bottom Line:

(Video) Is Tanning Healthy? Busting Common Myths About Tanning | Cancer Research UK

According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than one million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S. are considered sun-related. Skin cancer occurs in people of all skin tones, though it is less common in those with darker skin tones. Assessing your risk with the help of your doctor, protecting your skin, and performing regular skin cancer checks are the best methods of prevention.

More Information on Skin Cancer

Actinic or Solar Keratoses

What it is:

A fourth type of growth, actinic or solar keratoses, is a concern because it can progress into cancer. Actinic keratoses are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer, and are caused by long-term exposure to sunlight. They are the most common pre-malignant skin condition, occurring in more than 5 million Americans each year.


Actinic or solar keratoses share some of the symptoms of skin cancer. Look for raised, rough-textured, or scaly bumps that occur in areas that have been sunburned or tanned.


Most cases of actinic keratoses are easily treated in a dermatologist’s office by removing them with liquid nitrogen or chemical peels.

The Bottom Line:

Actinic or solar keratoses are the most common pre-malignant skin condition. Check with your doctor if you find any suspicious-looking bumps.

Eye Damage - Photokeratitis

What it is:

Photokeratitis can be thought of as a sunburn of the cornea. It is caused by intense UVC/UVB exposure of the eye. Photokeratitis is also called “snow blindness” because many people develop this condition at high altitudes in a snowy environment where the reflections of UVB are high. This condition can also be produced by exposure to intense artificial sources of UVC/UVB, like broken mercury vapor lamps, or certain types of tanning lamps.


  • Tearing
  • Pain
  • Swollen eyelids
  • A feeling of sand in the eye
  • Hazy or decreased vision


Consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe a topical solution which will aid your cornea in healing. Since the cornea usually heals in 24 to 48 hours, the symptoms are not long-lasting.

(Video) Dangers of Tanning Beds - Medical Minute

Eye Damage - Cataracts

What it is:

Cataractsare one form of eye damage that research has shown may increase with UV exposure. Clouding of the natural lens of the eye causing decreased vision and possible blindness are all effects of cataracts.

Other types of eye damage include cancer around the eyes, macular degeneration, and irregular tissue growth that can block vision (pterygium).


Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Clouded or spotty vision
  • Pain or soreness in and around the eyes


Cataracts can be surgically removed.

The Bottom Line:

Wearing sun protection gear such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with 100% UV protection can help decrease the risks of eye damage.

More Information of the Effects of UV on the Eye

Immune System Suppression

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), all people, regardless of skin color, are vulnerable to the effects of immune suppression. Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, increasing sensitivity to sunlight, diminishing the effects of immunizations or causing reactions to certain medications.

(Video) #Pale4Prom: The Risks of Tanning for Teens

In people who have been treated for an infection of the Herpes simplex virus, sun exposure can weaken the immune system so that it can no longer keep the virus under control. This results in reactivation of the infection and recurring cold sores.

More information about Immune System Suppression


What are the risks of tanning? ›

Both UV-A and UV-B rays causing DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer in laboratory animals and humans; and. The risk of melanoma of the skin increasing by 75 percent when tanning bed use started before age 35.

Can you tan without damaging your skin? ›

But it's important to remember that there is no safe amount of tanning. Any sustained exposure to the sun increases your risk of skin cancer so you should still wear appropriate protection every day.

Is there a way to tan safely? ›

The only safe way to tan is to use a self-tanning product or get a spray tan. Most self-tanning products and sprays are safe and FDA approved. These cosmetics do not penetrate the skin to cause harm like UV rays, and instead, just coat the outer layer.

What are the actual risks of sunbeds? ›

Sunbeds give out ultraviolet (UV) rays that increase your risk of developing skin cancer, both skin cancer (melanoma) and skin cancer (non-melanoma). Many sunbeds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun. The risks are greater for young people.

What are the pros and cons of tanning? ›

Sun exposure can help you get vitamin D and boost your mood. It also might help lower your blood pressure and help you sleep better. But unprotected sun exposure is very damaging for your skin. Tanning can change your skin permanently.

What are the benefits of tanning? ›

Thanks to the UV light from tanning devices, Vitamin D can play an important in regulating calcium and phosphorus levels, two essential elements for supporting healthy bones. Your bones naturally break down, but thanks to Vitamin D – and other minerals – they recover.

What is the healthiest way to tan? ›

Are There Ways People Can Achieve a Healthy Tan?
  1. Exfoliate your skin before heading out into the sun so you tan evenly and don't have to stay in the sun longer to see even effects.
  2. Wear sunscreen to block harmful UV rays. ...
  3. Don't spend too much time in the sun trying to get tan, and pick the right time of day.
Apr 23, 2018

What is the least damaging way to tan? ›

To help protect your skin from the damage caused by UV light, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you:
  1. Use sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher if you plan to be outside longer than 20 minutes. ...
  2. Don't burn. ...
  3. Avoid tanning booths and beds that use damaging ultraviolet light.
Jun 29, 2017

How many times a week can you tan safely? ›

Most indoor tanning professionals recommend 3 tanning sessions a week until a tan is developed, and then 2 each week after that to maintain the tan. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibit more than 1 tanning sessions in a single day. Avoid overexposure.

What is 10 minutes in a tanning bed equal to? ›

In a recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users, it was found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps. 10 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to four hours on the beach!

How often can you tan safely? ›

Moderate tanning of 2-3 sessions a week is OK for everyone else but ensure you rest the skin for a minimum of 24 hours between each session and at least 48 hours for skin type 2. The European Standard advises not to exceed 60 sessions per annum.

How long does it take to tan safely? ›

Yes, you can get a tan in one day.

However, experts recommend tanning slowly over a 2-week period to avoid getting a sunburn. Try laying out for 10 to 30 minutes every day, and be sure to wear sunscreen when you're outside.

Are sunbeds OK in moderation? ›

As we've outlined above, there is no safe level of UVR. Any exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. A tan is your body's attempt to protect itself from the damaging effect of UV rays. Using a sunbed to get a tan isn't safer than tanning in the sun.

Is a tanning bed worse than the sun? ›

UVA rays penetrate deeper into the layers of the skin, and there is definitely a higher risk of cancer associated with acquiring a tan via tanning bed. UVA rays are also linked to higher rates of leukemia and lymphoma. Tanning beds emit three times more UV rays than the sun. The intensity makes it much more dangerous.

Are sunbeds worse than smoking? ›

Smoking is definitely worse. Both sunbeds and smoking are harmful to your health if you do them in excess. Sunbeds using UVB producing lamps can increase your risk of skin cancer, while smoking can increase your risk of lung cancer.

Are spray tans safer than tanning beds? ›

At the end of the day, it's clear that spray tans are much better for you than a tanning bed. Tanning beds expose you to UV rays, which can cause premature aging, sunspots, and even skin cancer. On the other hand, spray tans offer an instant glow without any of the dangerous exposure.

Does tanning help with anxiety? ›

Sun lamp therapy and safe tanning bed use may be a helpful supplement during winter months. Improving your gut health may also improve depression and anxiety symptoms.

How much tanning is too much? ›

Give Up Indoor Tanning

But just 15 to 30 minutes in a tanning bed is equivalent to a full day at the beach and may expose you to even more harmful UV light than the sun. Overuse can eventually lead to prematurely aged skin, skin cancer and eye damage, especially if you don't wear goggles.

How often should you tan? ›

Most indoor tanning experts recommend three sessions per week until a tan develops, then two sessions per week after that to keep the tan. To avoid skin damage, wait at least 48 hours between tanning sessions. Spray tans can last for 5-10 days.

Do you get Vitamin D from tanning beds? ›

Getting enough vitamin D from tanning beds isn't possible.

You may have heard that your body makes a lot of vitamin D when you use a tanning bed. It doesn't. The bulbs used in tanning beds emit mostly UVA light; however, your body needs UVB light to make vitamin D.

Is tanning addicting? ›

Tanning Addiction

Despite the known dangers of exposure to ultraviolet light, many people continue to sunbathe and use indoor tanning beds with some users exhibiting a dependence to tanning. A new study from the Yale School of Public Health finds that such dependence is also associated with other addictive behaviors.

Do you tan better wet or dry? ›

Dry is better than wet. Take it slowly and gently. It may sound like a drag, but burning doubles your risk of skin cancer - and intermittent, intense sun exposure raises your risk by 70 per cent. For more information go to

Is it better to tan with dry skin or? ›

Moist skin will tan better and more evenly than dry skin. Your skin knows that moisture is important and uses a variety of methods to retain moisture in its surface. Your skin retains water within its natural oils to help them maintain an ordered structure around each skin cell.

Which skin gets tan easily? ›

Melanin is the brown pigment that causes tanning. Melanin is the body's way of protecting skin from burning. Darker-skinned people tan more deeply than lighter-skinned people because their melanocytes produce more melanin.

How do I protect my skin in a tanning bed? ›

These are our top five tanning bed safety tips:
  1. Keep your tanning sessions short and infrequent.
  2. Never tan before the age of 35.
  3. Wear proper eye protection.
  4. Cover sensitive areas.
  5. Avoid makeup and fragrance.
Jan 4, 2022

Does sunscreen prevent tan? ›

So, does sunscreen prevent you from getting tan? No, but this myth continues to prevail. When you look at the science, sunscreens allow people to stay out in the sun longer and protect against the UV rays that can cause skin cancer, but they do not prevent the skin from developing a tan.

Is outdoor tanning better than indoor? ›

Tanning Beds - Some tanning advocates insist that indoor tanning is a healthy source of vitamin D and is much better than outdoor tanning. This is simply not the case. Both indoor and outdoor tanning causes damage to our skin. Tanning beds emit roughly 12 times more UVA light than natural sunlight.

What to do before tanning for the first time? ›

Shave and Exfoliate Before You Tan

Dry and dead skin cells can prevent you from getting an even tan. Exfoliate a few days before you go to the tanning bed for the first time to make sure that your skin is smooth and soft. First-time tanners should also consider shaving or waxing to remove body hair before they tan.

How do you properly tan? ›

How to get a tan faster
  1. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30. ...
  2. Change positions frequently. ...
  3. Eat foods that contain beta carotene. ...
  4. Try using oils with naturally occurring SPF. ...
  5. Don't stay outside for longer than your skin can create melanin. ...
  6. Eat lycopene-rich foods. ...
  7. Choose your tanning time wisely.

How long after a sunbed should I shower? ›

You can immediately shower after sunbed tanning if you didn't use any bronzer or spray tanning treatment. Have you used a bronzer? Wait for two hours before showering.

Should you have a shower after a sunbed? ›

Many sunbed users wonder if it's okay to shower after using a sunbed. The answer is yes – you can definitely shower after using a sunbed. In fact, showering can actually help to prolong your tan. When you shower, the water helps to hydrate your skin, which can prevent your tan from fading too quickly.

Is 2 hours enough to tan? ›

Most people will tan within 1 to 2 hours in the sun. It's important to remember that both burns and tans may take a while to set in, so if you don't see color immediately, it doesn't mean you're not getting any color or should use lower SPF. Any type of tanning has risks, including skin cancer.

How often should I tan naturally? ›

For most people, the right answer is three days of bed-tanned skin per month to help prevent sunburn. Less frequently, people who've taken good care of their skin will tan three times per year.

What are the benefits of sunbeds? ›


So the health benefits of natural sunlight - a boost in Vitamin D production, reduced inflammation, an improvement in skin conditions, lowered blood pressure, and better heart health, for example - can be replicated through sunbed use.

Why do I tan so easily? ›

Why do I tan so easily? If you have a darker skin tone (more melanin), you tend to tan easily. The melanin (brown pigment) containing melanocytes spread out across the sun-exposed skin to cover and protect the skin from more damage.

Can you tan through a window? ›

Can you get a tan through a window? Yes, you can get a tan through a window with standard glass because it allows UVA rays to pass through. However, it would take a long time, so don't expect a glowing tan from sitting in a conservatory for a few hours.

Does sunburn turn into tan? ›

Do Sunburns Turn into Tans? After you heal from a sunburn, the affected area may be more tan than usual, but tanning is just another form of skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation.

Is it enough to go on a sunbed once a week? ›

Two sessions a week should be enough to deepen your tan regardless of your skin type. However, if your tan starts to fade before the next visit, it is generally recommended to wait at least 48 hours in between each session. This allows the tan to build up consistently and the cells to develop safely.

How much damage does one sunbed do? ›

Even one sunbed session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 67% and basal cell skin cancer by 29%. Even more importantly is the increased risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. If you have ever used a sunbed your risk of melanoma increases by 20%.

What are safer alternatives to tanning beds? ›

Opt for sunless self-tanners or spray tans. These are available in many forms, including lotions, sprays, and creams. The Skin Cancer Foundation advocates that no tan is a safe tan, and that regardless of whether women decide to go with their own glow or use sunless tanning methods, they avoid UV tanning.

Why are tanning beds worse? ›

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that tanning beds produce 100 times more UV levels, or the expected intensity of ultraviolet radiation, than what you would get from the sun. This can severely damage the external and internal structures of your eyes and eyelids.

What are two risks of too much tanning? ›

The Risks of Tanning
  • Sunburn.
  • Sun Tan.
  • Premature Aging/Photoaging.
  • Skin Cancer.
  • Actinic or Solar Keratoses.
  • Eye Damage. Photokeratitis. Cataracts.
  • Immune System Suppression.
Apr 26, 2019

Does tanning age your skin? ›

"We know there is no such thing as a safe UV tan. Tanning both indoors and out can lead to premature skin aging -- wrinkles, lax skin, brown spots and more -- and the development of dangerous skin cancers. Any tool that helps deter people from tanning is a step in the right direction."

How many times a week is OK to tan? ›

Moderate tanning of 2-3 sessions a week is OK for everyone else but ensure you rest the skin for a minimum of 24 hours between each session and at least 48 hours for skin type 2. The European Standard advises not to exceed 60 sessions per annum. What is a sunbed session?

How many tanning sessions are safe? ›

There's just no such thing as a “safe” tanning bed, tanning booth, or sun lamp. Even one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%), according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Are sunbeds safe in moderation? ›

As we've outlined above, there is no safe level of UVR. Any exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer. A tan is your body's attempt to protect itself from the damaging effect of UV rays. Using a sunbed to get a tan isn't safer than tanning in the sun.

Do tanning beds give you vitamin D? ›

A tanning bed will never provide you with the vitamin D that you need, nor is it safer than tanning outdoors. Not understanding the facts can literally mean the difference between life and death. Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation cause cell damage that can lead to skin cancer.

How long does 10 minutes in a tanning bed equal? ›

Vitamin D can be obtained by a eating a healthy diet and by taking oral supplements. In a recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users, it was found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps. 10 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to four hours on the beach!

Does your skin turn back after tanning? ›

Can a tan be permanent? A tan is never permanent because skin naturally exfoliates itself over time. This causes the tanned skin to flake off. New cells are formed and older skin sloughs off.

How can I tan without getting wrinkles? ›

To prevent your skin from losing moisture and collagen, make sure that you moisturize your entire body before and after entering the tanning beds. Moisturizing your skin will not only prevent wrinkles, but will also guarantee that you get a better tan, as your skin is silkier and smoother.

Does tanned skin last forever? ›

A natural tan will usually last for around 7-10 days, although this can vary for each different skin type and colour. However, any exposure to sun during that 7-10 day period could mean that your tan will hang around for longer, so the length of time it lasts really does depend on the individual.

How can I tan naturally without tanning? ›

How To Get A Real Tan If You're Fair, Pale, or Just Can't Tan!
  1. Burning is your biggest enemy- Always use sun protection. ...
  2. Take your time, and build your tan up slowly. ...
  3. Let your skin rest. ...
  4. Get a kick-start. ...
  5. Feed your skin whilst tanning. ...
  6. Create the perfect tanning conditions, right on your skin.

What is safer spray tan or tanning bed? ›

At the end of the day, it's clear that spray tans are much better for you than a tanning bed. Tanning beds expose you to UV rays, which can cause premature aging, sunspots, and even skin cancer. On the other hand, spray tans offer an instant glow without any of the dangerous exposure.


1. Are Tanning Beds Worse than the Sun? The Risks You Face
(St. Louis Children's Hospital)
2. Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays (Consumer Update)
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
3. Facing The Consequences Of Being A Sunbed Addict
(BBC Three)
4. 'Dangerous' tanning products promoted by influencers - BBC News
(BBC News)
5. Are Tanning Beds Safe? | How to Tan Safely | with Dr. Sandra Lee
(SLMD Skincare)
6. Indoor Tanning: The Risks of Ultraviolet Rays (Consumer Update)
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
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