The Dangers of Tanning Beds
- Daniella Bolton was diagnosed with melanoma after trying to treat her eczema with indoor tanning sessions. Now, she says she’s a “reformed sunbed addict.”
- Just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent and squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. One of our experts says “there is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
- Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to look out for melanoma since changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
Unfortunately, it was likely all the UV ray exposure that lead the “sunbed addict” to a melanoma diagnosis in 2017. Now, she’s sharing her story to warn against the use of tanning beds.Read More
So, the then 18 year old started slathering on a tanning accelerator and hopping into a tanning bed twice a week. It wasn’t until about two years later that the effects of the harmful UV exposure presumably caught up to her.
“Just after my 20th birthday this mole appeared near the top of my back beside my left shoulder blade,” she told The Sun. “It wasn’t very big at all, it was a deep brown color and was a wee bit raised… I don’t have any spots, moles or freckles on my back so it was quite obvious to me.”
She noticed the mole in February 2017 and went to her general practitioner in April. After a biopsy in May, Bolton was diagnosed with melanoma.
She underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tissue in July 2017. She also had an additional biopsy taken from the lymph nodes to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. Thankfully, her results came back clear, and Bolton has learned an important lesson.
“I don’t want to ever go through that again, it was so horrible,” she said. “I’m definitely a reformed sunbed addict. Now if I want a nice tan I’ll use fake tan. Going on sunbeds isn’t worth the risk.”
Indoor tanning is now “a thing of the past” for Bolton, but it does beg the question: Can tanning beds actually help with eczema?
“There is absolutely no benefit to going to a tanning bed, and it can really significantly increase your risk of melanoma,” Dr. Dendy Engelman from MDCS Dermatology in New York previously told SurvivorNet.
According to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the idea that tanning beds help improve skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis is false.
“Although other forms of light can be used to treat these conditions, indoor tanning uses a portion of ultraviolet light that is not known to be an effective treatment for these skin diseases,” the website states. “In fact, indoor tanning may even make things worse, because antibiotics and other treatments that have proved effective for them can make your skin even more sensitive to UV radiation and increase the damage it causes. In addition, UV light (from either natural or artificial sources) increases wrinkle formation and skin aging. Good UV protection is one of the best tools to reduce aging-related skin changes.”
If you, like Bolton, are looking for ways to treat your eczema, it’s important to consult your doctor about your options.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in the same cells that give your skin, hair and eyes their color. But melanoma causes the cells to change in a way that makes them able to spread to other organs.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, an oncologist at NYU Langone Health.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 106,110 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. Melanoma can develop from an existing mole or appear as a dark or pink growth on the skin even in places on the body that never see the sun.
Paying attention to moles or growths on your skin is an easy way to keep an eye out for melanoma. Changes to a mole you’ve had for a while or developing a new growth you don’t remembering having on your skin could be signs of of this cancer, according to SurvivorNet’s experts. These spots on our skin are often harmless, but it’s still important to keep an eye on them and reach out to your doctor if you see any changes or find a growth anywhere on your skin that looks suspicious.
Dr. Cecilia Larocca of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute gives SurvivorNet an overview of things to look out for with moles using the ABCDE self-screening method:
- Asymmetrical moles: “If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?”
- Borders that are “irregular, jagged, not smooth.” It can also stand for bleeding.
- Colors: “Multiple distinct colors in the mole.”
- Diameter: “Larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil head eraser.”
- Evolution: “This may be the most important,” she says. “Anything that is changing over time such as gaining color, losing color, painful, itching, hurting, changing shape, etc.”
Protecting Yourself from Melanoma
Ninety percent of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This means excessive time in the sun – even as a child – puts you at a higher risk.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Dendy Engelman from MDCS Dermatology in New York shared the top five things you can do to avoid skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during peak hours, which is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional), because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of melanoma.
Tanning Salons and Cancer Risk
Applying sunscreen, wearing hats and rocking some sunglasses are all ways to protect yourself from harmful UVA/UVB rays reaching us from the sun thousands of miles away. But when you hop into a tanning bed, you are exposing yourself to the very same rays from only 6-8 inches away. So, even if the temptation of achieving that summer “glow” seems irresistible, you should note that health experts warn against the use of tanning beds.
Daniella Bolton is trying to steer clear of tanning beds now, but millions of people still head to the salons every year. This is a huge health concern because just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent and squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And in a study published in April for Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers suggest that banning tanning beds among minors would prevent thousands of cases of melanoma in adolescents and millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
“Studies have shown that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer and ocular cancer,” says Dr. Lynn A. Cornelius, chief of the division of dermatology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “It also induces changes that lead to premature aging of the skin. There is no ‘safe’ tanning bed.”
Dr. Pavlick, a medical oncologist and a Professor of Medicine and Dermatology at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, echoed Dr. Cornelius’ statements by explaining that tanning beds increase your chances of melanoma “exponentially.”
“We know there is a direct correlation with [melanoma] patients who go to indoor tanning salons,” Dr. Pavlick tells SurvivorNet, who notes that the exposure “is about 6 inches from your body.”
The sun is millions of miles away when you’re on a beach, “so you have to think of the intensity that you’re exposing your skin to when you go to a tanning salon,” she says.
Alternatives to Tanning Beds
If achieving the perfect tan is very important to you, there are other options to try instead of the UV-blasting tanning beds or prolonged sun exposure. Temporary options like spray tans and self-tanning lotions are thought to be far better alternatives.
“Spray tans and sunless tanning lotions are safe,” Dr. Cornelius says. “One should take precautions not to inhale the product when getting a spray tan. Skin allergic reactions are rare.”
Spray tans are a much safer alternative to tanning beds, but Dr. Craig Elmets, professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, says that not much is known about the side effects of spray tans.
“They even have a very mild sunscreen effect,” he says, adding that applying sunblock is still recommended when going outdoors. “Not a lot is known about the side effects, but there is very limited absorption and they have been available for decades without any reports of serious side effects, which is reassuring.”