Hello, this is Dr. Day with Innovation Dermatology. Today I’m going to answer a question that has been coming up a lot in clinic recently, which is are tanning beds safe? and should I be getting a base tan before I go on holidays? That’s an interesting question and an important Public Health question that I wanted to address.
We should change the name of tanning beds to tanning coffins! They look like coffins, and it is unequivocal now, they increase the risk for skin cancer. In Canada alone, the incidence of invasive melanoma is one in fifty. This has been increasing over time.
The World Health Organization has recently labeled tanning beds as a Class 1 carcinogen. That means there is clear evidence that tanning bed usage increases your risk of skin cancer.
Is this the case across the world? The answer is yes.
Studies have confirmed this in Australia, Europe, the United States, and Canada. Why is there this notion of base tans or getting vitamin D in a natural way through tanning beds? The answer is this, there’s misinformation out there. You need about 10 minutes of sun exposure to get your daily vitamin D intake. The other way to get your vitamin D is through your diet. So, you don’t need to be laying in a tanning bed to get this.
Tanning beds are not the same as regular sun exposure. Walking around for 10 minutes outside is not equal to getting the high-intensity UVA/ UVB light that you can get in a tanning bed.
Tanning beds have been found to increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. That’s important because those are the most common skin cancers. Across the entire spectrum of the most common skin cancers and the most lethal skin cancers tanning bed usage will increase your likelihood of developing those cancers.
This is a major public health problem. So, what can we actually do about it? What if you did use tanning beds before, what can you do about it? The first thing is to stop using tanning beds completely. The next thing that’s important is to understand is you can do things to prevent sun damage.
What, what can you do?
The first is sunscreen usage or physical sun protective behavior. There was a very interesting study that came out recently that had a group of people and brought them to the beach and did 2 interventions. Intervention number one had them sit in the shade, under an umbrella (a physical block of sunlight). The other group was then recommended they use sunscreen. They used sunscreen in the appropriate way with one application. At the end of a certain number of hours, they determined which groups had more sunburn? And the answer was interesting. Both groups had high amounts of sunburn, but the physical blocking groups had a higher amount of sunburn. The conclusion from that study was that by combining physical blocking agents like a hat, a sun shirt, and sitting in the shade with sunscreen was more effective than either group alone. The next important part to consider is, “is there anything else that I can do?” One thing you can do is chat with your local dermatologist, and book an appointment to get a skin check.
Early detection impacts mortality rate.
If you pick up a skin cancer early enough the treatment is often surgery. But if it’s more advanced that’s where it becomes quite problematic. The next question that often comes up is, “is a base tan a good idea to prepare you to minimize sun damage in the future?” The answer is no. You damage your skin with any kind of tan. It is the body’s way to try and protect your DNA from further damage from ultraviolet light. So once again an ounce of prevention certainly is worth a pound of cure.
Consider using sunscreen this summer or when you’re going on holidays and physical blocking agents like hats. If you do have a worrisome spot feel free to contact your local dermatologist for a skin examination. At the end of the day, your dermatologist is there to try and help you spot skin cancer earlier if you have it. Or at least give you the tools necessary to avoid the likelihood of running into problems with skin cancer in the future.
So, once again this is Dr. Day from Innovation Dermatology, remember you only have one skin and we’re here to try and help you as best we can.