September 08: Tanning: Who can you trust?

September 08: Tanning: Who can you trust?

Here’s a new one: Tanning beds are good for your health—that is, if you trust a full-page ad placed by the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) in The New York Times a few months ago. The ad, followed by a T.V. media blitz in major markets, is grounded in the release of scientific evidence that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light stimulates the production of vitamin D—a nutrient linked to strong bones and other health benefits.

The ITA claims the benefit of vitamin D production from indoor tanning far outweighs the risk of melanoma from UV exposure, but skin docs don’t agree. The American Academy of Dermatology states in its official literature: “Sunlight or tanning beds are not better sources of vitamin D than food or supplements. The only thing for which they are better is increasing your risk of developing skin cancer.” And Dr. Deborah M. Elder, board-certified dermatologist with Charlottesville Dermatology, says that it only takes about 10 minutes of sunlight on your arms twice a week to stimulate the production of vitamin D you need. Moreover, she says, “I’m vehemently opposed to tanning beds—I think they’re more dangerous than routine sun exposure.” 

Is tanning safe? A local doctor says absolutely not.

According to Elder, tanning bed bulbs typically don’t produce UVB rays—the ones that burn your outer layer. Without telltale red skin alerting an indoor tanner that she’s had enough, she’s likely to expose herself to the more deeply penetrating UVA rays longer and more often. For this reason, Elder says, “I believe [tanning beds] may be responsible for the rapidly increasing rate of melanoma in young women between the ages of 15 and 30.” There you have it: Skip the fake bake and drink your vitamin-D fortified milk instead.