One Tanning Session Raises Melanoma Risk by 20 Percent

Just one indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent, according to a major new study. The news for young people, the top users of tanning machines, is even worse, with those who started tanning before age 35 increasing their risk by almost 90 percent. These figures, based on an exhaustive analysis of 27 studies by the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyons, France, were higher than any previously reported.

In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (affiliated with the World Health Organization) added UV radiation from tanning beds to its list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation, and the new study, published in the British Medical Journal, linked more than five percent of all melanomas directly to tanning bed use. In the US alone, melanoma will affect an estimated 76,250 people in 2012, killing 9,180.

The So-Called “Safety” of a Controlled Dose

To convince patrons that indoor tanning is safe, tanning salons often claim that because tanning lamps emit a controlled amount of UV radiation during a session, indoor tanners avoid sunburn, thereby minimizing the risk of damage to their skin. However, new research shows that indoor tanners do burn: in a study of 198 college-age female tanners, 130 (66 percent) reported at least one tanning session-related sunburn. In fact, almost 20 percent of the tanning sessions resulted in sunburn. As the authors note in Translational Behavioral Medicine, “These findings contradict the IT [indoor tanning] industry’s claim that risks of sunburn are minimal with IT.” Both suntans and sunburns occur in response to overexposure to UV radiation, and both are signs of damage to skin cells; whether you sustain them indoors or outdoors, both raise your risk for all forms of skin cancer. 

Both suntans and sunburns occur in response to overexposure to UV radiation, and both are signs of damage to skin cells; whether you sustain them indoors or outdoors, both raise your risk for all forms of skin cancer. To stay safe in the sun, follow The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Guidelines.