What tanning beds actually do to your skin

Sorry, Charlie — tanning isn’t safe, even at the salon

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Apr 06, 2020 · 3 min read

We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

The feeling of warm sunlight is addictive — literally. So even though I’m in the running for palest goth in Florida, I totally understand the appeal of climbing into a tanning bed. Unfortunately, the idea that indoor tanning is safer than outdoor tanning is a complete myth, so if you love to hit the tanning salon, you aren’t doing your skin any favors. That’s why I’m here to illuminate tanning bed facts.

Facts about tanning beds

FALSE: tanning is safe in moderation

Tanning beds aren’t safer in moderation. Here’s the kicker — unless it comes in a bottle, a tan is always a sign of skin damage. That’s because any kind of laying out (whether inside or outside!) is a way of intentionally exposing yourself to too much sun. So even if you’re only occasionally hitting the tanning salon, you’re doing more harm than good.

Also, there’s often a delay between sun exposure and the appearance of sun damage on your skin. So trust me — while you might feel like a bronzed demigod now, it will likely cost you later.

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FALSE: tanning beds are safer than outdoor tanning

Tanning beds aren’t safe. Whether the light is coming from the sun or from a tanning bed, they both have UV rays. I might even argue that tanning beds are less safe — for one, tanning salons can tend to spread a lot of misinformation — like that tanning has health benefits such as weight loss.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one indoor tanning session can significantly increase your risk for certain types of skin cancer. And while both indoor and outdoor tanning have similar risks, it’s worth noting that the FDA is pushing to ban tanning beds for those under the age of 18.

FALSE: tanning beds have skin benefits

Tanning bed benefits are a myth. It’s a myth that tanning makes dark spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation less noticeable — the spots get darker as your skin gets darker, so a tan won’t actually even out your skin tone. Also, if you wanted to hit a tanning salon to boost your vitamin D, you should save your money. While it’s true that pure, natural sunshine helps our bodies produce vitamin D, the same can’t be said of tanning beds — womp, womp!

The truth about sun protection

Protecting your skin from sun damage is one of the most important things you can do for your overall skin health. It’s important to not only skip the tanning salon but to take measures against the sun’s UV rays. Some things you can do:

  1. Wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and re-apply it throughout the day — about every two hours if you’re outside.

  2. Wear sun protection clothing. Sunglasses and sunhats are just a few ways you can stay super cute and super safe — parasols, anyone?

If you want to shoot for the sun-kissed look, you still have options. I’ve written about self-tanners here on the blog before. Body highlighters are another option, and so is other makeup, like blush and bronzer. And if you’re struggling with signs of sun damage, Curology can help you out. Sign up for a free trial and pay just $4.95 + tax (for shipping and handling) on your first shipment of just the custom cream or the complete Curology set.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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