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Are there Health Benefits to Tanning Beds?

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With summer just around the corner, many people are thinking about how they can achieve that sun-kissed glow. While sunbathing is one option, others turn to tanning beds for a quick and convenient tan. But are there any health benefits to tanning beds?

The Dangers of Tanning Beds

The short answer is no. Tanning beds, also known as sunbeds, emit harmful UV radiation that damages the skin and can lead to skin cancer. In fact, the World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as a Class 1 carcinogen, which means they are a proven cause of cancer in humans.

Despite this, some people still believe that tanning beds have health benefits, such as boosting vitamin D levels. While it's true that exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones, the risks of tanning beds far outweigh any potential benefits. There are safer ways to get vitamin D, such as through supplements and fortified foods.

Moreover, tanning beds do not provide the same type of UV radiation as the sun, which is necessary for the body to produce vitamin D. Tanning beds emit mainly UVA radiation, which penetrates deeper into the skin and causes more damage than UVB radiation, the type that the sun primarily emits.

The Risks of Tanning Beds

Another supposed health benefit of tanning beds is the treatment of skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. While it's true that UV radiation can have a therapeutic effect on certain skin conditions, the risks of tanning beds far outweigh any potential benefits. There are safer and more effective treatments for skin conditions that do not involve exposure to harmful UV radiation.

In fact, tanning beds can exacerbate certain skin conditions, such as eczema and rosacea, and can also cause premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, and age spots. The damage caused by tanning beds is cumulative, meaning that even a few sessions can have long-lasting effects on the skin.

Furthermore, tanning beds are not regulated in the same way as other medical devices, such as X-ray machines. This means that the strength of the UV radiation emitted by tanning beds can vary widely and may exceed safe levels.

Alternatives to Tanning Beds

In conclusion, there are no health benefits to tanning beds. The risks of skin cancer, premature aging, and other skin damage far outweigh any potential benefits. If you want to achieve a healthy glow, there are safer ways to do so, such as using self-tanning products or getting a spray tan. Remember to always protect your skin from the sun and avoid tanning beds to reduce your risk of skin cancer and other skin damage.

If you're looking to boost your vitamin D levels, consider taking supplements or eating vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk and cereal. It's important to talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to get enough vitamin D, especially if you're at risk for deficiency.

Conclusion

While tanning beds may seem like a quick and easy way to achieve a tan, they come with significant health risks. Instead, focus on protecting your skin from the sun and using safer alternatives to achieve a healthy glow. By taking steps to protect your skin, you can reduce your risk of skin cancer and other skin damage and keep your skin looking healthy and youthful for years to come.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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