Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, assistant professor in the department of dermatology at University of California–San Francisco and lead author of the study, calls that figure "astounding." "Indoor tanning is not safe," she says, adding that it's been linked not only to deadly melanoma, but also to squamous cell and basal cell cancers.
Do You Have a Tanning Addiction?
The fact that tanning beds cause skin cancers is well established in the scientific literature, however, it's the scope of the problem that's hazy. So to get a sense of its reach, Dr. Linos and her coauthors combed the scientific literature on tanning bed use in the U.S., Europe, and Australia and combined it with previous research they'd conducted on skin cancer rates in those same countries.
University students are by far the largest tanning-bed users. Fifty-five percent of them reported having used a tanning bed, compared to 36 percent of adults and 19 percent of adolescents. When the authors correlated that use with previous studies on skin cancer prevalence, they were able to calculate that 450,000 cases of skin cancer each year can be tied to tanning bed use.
3 Secrets about Your Sunless Tan
The U.S. led the pack by far. Here, where 35 percent of people of all ages report ever having used a tanning bed, 419,254 cases of cancer can be tied to tanning bed use. Basal cell carcinoma, a very treatable but disfiguring form of the disease, was the most prevalent, accounting for 245,000 of the 2.6 million cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Of the 76,250 cases of melanoma diagnosed here each year, 6,200, or 8 percent, can be tied to tanning bed use.
While a single use of a tanning bed might not lead to cancer, Dr. Linos says that, not unlike sunlight, the more you expose yourself to tanning bed UV radiation, the higher your chances of getting cancer down the road. "There is no 'safe' level of indoor tanning use," she says.
Sunless Tanning Sprays: Not a Good Option
In light of the evidence that tanning beds cause skin cancer, more sun worshippers are turning to tanning sprays: Artificial color is sprayed evenly over the skin, applied while you stand in a booth. But University of Pennsylvania researchers discovered that, if inhaled, the main ingredient in these sprays could damage DNA. And it's really hard NOT to inhale a substance being sprayed at you in an enclosed booth for roughly 10 to 30 seconds.
The Way to Go?
Still want that summer glow midwinter? Eat more carrots and tomatoes. In a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers found that a diet rich in carrots and tomatoes could produce a brighter skin glow than repeated UV exposure. Both get their color from antioxidants called carotenoids, which pass their color along to you when you eat them.