How Tanning Beds Can Age You Quickly

Image: Miran Rijavec

According to American Academy of Dermatology, about 7.8 million adult women and 1.9 million adult men in the United States tan indoors. More than half of these indoor tanners start before the age of 21, and a third of them start tanning before the age of 18.

Despite warnings from skin experts and health professionals, many people are still drawn to indoor tanning, thinking that this is safer than sunbathing. But this is far from the truth.

In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer had moved tanning beds to its highest category of cancer risk – “carcinogenic” to humans. Before that, sunlamps and tanning beds are classified as “probable” carcinogenic.

Tanning Beds and Premature Skin Aging

Tanning beds are often the preferred choice of those who want to get a year-round tan without having to lay in the sun for hours (a 20-minute indoor tanning session is equivalent to a day of sunbathing). These beds work with the use of artificial sources of ultraviolet light. It can be ultraviolet-A (UVA), ultraviolet-B (UVB), or a combination of both.

UVA rays are longer than UVB and thus, penetrate deeper than the latter. It can reach the lower layers of the epidermis, causing the skin to produce more melanocytes. Melanocytes are what produce melanin, the pigment that causes the person to tan. The more melanin the skin produces, the tanner the person appears.

UVB rays, on the other hand, only penetrate the outer layers of the epidermis. It may not penetrate deeper into the skin layers, but UVB is considered as the chief contributor to skin cancer.

In many tanning beds, a combination of UVA and UVB are used to achieve one’s desired tan. UVA is what makes the person tanner while UVB plays a vital role in pushing melanin into the surface.

Skin Damage by UV Rays

Whether it’s UVA, UVB, or a combination of both, tanning beds can harm your skin significantly, causing it to age prematurely and increasing your chance of getting skin cancer.

The pigment produced during indoor tanning is a result of skin damage. When UV rays reach the skin, they interact with melanin, the skin’s first layer of protection. Melanin absorbs the UV rays to protect the skin from sun damage (the chemical reaction that happens during this process results to a tan). Sunburns result when we exceed the protection provided by melanin.

Constant and repeated exposure to UV rays eventually result in skin damage. UV rays can damage the skin’s collagen fibers. This process triggers the production of abnormal elastin. Abnormal amounts of elastin lead to the production of enzymes that cause malfunction and degradation of collagen. As this process is repeated, the skin ages prematurely. Some of the common signs of premature skin aging include wrinkles, fine lines, age spots or skin discoloration, actinic keratoses (scaly red patches), and dry and leathery skin.

Avoid Tanning Beds

The short-term bliss from using tanning beds isn’t worth it. Aside from the premature skin aging, constant use of tanning beds put you at great risk of skin cancer. Plus, there’s also a risk of developing dependency on it.

If getting a tan is a goal you have in mind, you may want to try these safer alternatives to tanning beds:

  • Sunless tanning lotion
    There’s a broad range of bronzing lotions to choose from. It won’t be hard for you to choose one that suits well your skin tone. Many of these lotions have become better in their formulation due to the growing awareness on cancer risk from UV rays.
  • Spray tan
    If you only opt to have a tan for a few days to a week, then you may want to consider getting a spray tan. It’s more expensive than bronzing lotions, but when done right, it will give you a hassle-free even tan that will last for a week.

  • Body makeup
    Getting a sun-kissed glow is possible with some cosmetic products. A bronzer can give you a tan without damaging your skin and age it prematurely.
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