Tanning bed in a salon

Letter to the Editor – Base Tan

Dear OHW Magazine,

Many of my friends are planning sunny vacations this winter, and some are talking about getting a base tan before they go. I know that tanning bed use is a controversial subject and wonder if you can provide some information on this and other ways to prepare for the hot sun.

Jean, Penticton.


Dear Jean,

This is indeed a timely question and to answer it, we turned to resources from the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and the US-based Skin Cancer Foundation.

Here’s their take:

There’s little evidence to support the idea that a base tan protects you against sunburn. Tanning beds don’t offer a safe alternative to natural sunlight. A few sessions of indoor tanning will not prevent you from burning in the sun. A base tan is no substitute for good sun protection. Plus, the risks of long-term tanning outweigh the unproven benefits of a base tan.

The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation strongly recommends avoiding the use of artificial tanning beds.

There is a growing body of evidence to indicate a strong link between indoor tanning and skin cancer:

  • In 2009 the World Health Organization designated tanning beds “carcinogenic to humans,” the strongest classification for cancer-causing substances.  Other carcinogens in the same category include tobacco, arsenic, and asbestos.
  • First exposure to sunbeds before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 75%.
  • Having used a sunbed even once is associated with increased risk of melanoma by 15%.
  • Tanning beds have ultraviolet (UV) doses well above what would be expected in midday sun, as much as 14 times higher UVA and 4 times higher UVB.

A recent analysis of tanning beds and vitamin D found that most tanning devices emit primarily UVA, which is relatively ineffective in stimulating vitamin D synthesis. The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation recommends dietary supplements as an economical and safe way to obtain vitamin D. Tanning beds should not be considered a safe way to get vitamin D.

*Reprint from our Fall 2017 Issue.

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