Risks of Indoor Tanning Beds

Scientific research proves that tanning beds are dangerous

If you've ever thought about going to an indoor tanning booth you may be wondering: Are tanning beds safe? The short answer is no.

Artificial ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) emitted from tanning beds and sun lamps causes cancer, according to both the World Health Organization's International Agency of Research on Cancer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The sun's rays are carcinogenic too, but the UVA rays emitted from the ultraviolet A light sources in tanning booths are two to three times more powerful. Indoor tanning includes all artificial light sources emitting UVA and UVB radiation ⁠— wavelengths in ultraviolet radiation. 

A woman using an indoor tanning bed
Simon Wilkinson / Getty Images

Symptoms of Sun Damage

Solar radiation from tanning booths and the sun damages your skin. The obvious and familiar signs are:

  • Your skin begins to get pink
  • Your skin turns red
  • You get blisters 

Risks of Indoor Tanning

Tanning-booth safety is well-researched. The risks of indoor tanning are numerous, significant, and well-substantiated by clinical research in peer-reviewed journals.

If you think it's safe to just use a tanning booth before the prom or your wedding and that it won't do any damage, you're wrong. Going to just one session at the tanning salon before age 35 increases your risk of melanoma even if you don't get a sunburn. That risk continues to increase with every session. 

You also increase the risk of:

Tanning Booths Cause Cancer

When you go to the salon for a tanning session, you might leave with a golden glow, but you're subjecting yourself to something that unequivocally causes cancer. Clinical studies show tanning with artificial light causes melanoma, the most dangerous kind of cancer. A melanoma resembles a mole and is usually black or brown in color, but sometimes red, blue or other colors.

Risk Factors

Skin cancer can happen to anyone. Women are at greater risk of developing cancer from exposure to UV rays used in indoor tanning booths than men, simply because about 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are young women. If you've previously been treated for skin cancer or have a family history of skin cancer your risk also increases.

You have a greater risk of developing skin cancer if you exhibit certain physical characteristics, including:

  • Fair skin
  • Blonde, red, or light brown hair
  • Blue, green, or gray eyes

Your risk is also greater if your skin tends to:

  • Always burn before tanning
  • Burns easily
  • Not tan easily and you spend a lot of time outdoors

Your lifestyle can also increase your risk of skin cancer, including:

  • Living in or taking regular vacations to high altitudes, because ultraviolet exposure increases with altitude
  • Working indoors all week and then trying to play "catch up" on the weekend by spending a lot of time outside

Medication, supplements, and some cosmetics increase your sensitivity to the sun, too. 

Warning Signs of Skin Cancer

As with many cancers, early detection and treatment are your best chance of remission and survival. Here are some signs that may indicate you have skin cancer:

  • A skin abnormality that increases in size and appears multicolored, pink, red, black, brown, tan, pearly, translucent, or tan.
  • A mole that changes color, textures, grows, becomes irregular in shape, or that is bigger than a pencil eraser.
  • A spot or growth that continually itches, hurts, becomes crusty, scabs, or bleeds.
  • An open sore that does not heal after 4 weeks or one that heals and reopens.

Regular skin self-exams could save an estimated 4,500 lives annually. Anytime you are concerned about a growth or spot on your skin, it is best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are tanning beds safe in moderation?

    No. Even one session in a tanning bed can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

  • Are tanning beds safe during pregnancy?

    Tanning beds are not ever safe, but if you're pregnant, there's more to consider than just an increased risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D and folic acid are two nutrients that are critical to fetal development, but excessive UV light can impact your body's ability to produce and use them. This can impact how your baby grows in the womb.

  • Are tanning beds safe while breastfeeding?

    While there isn't any research to show that the concentrated UV light from a tanning bed could impact breastmilk, it could impact your ability to breastfeed in other ways. In addition to an increased risk of developing skin cancer, breastfeeding mothers who tan also run the risk of sunburned breasts or nipples, which can make it hard to breastfeed.

  • Is there a safe way to tan?

    Self-tanning lotions are the only way to achieve a sun-kissed glow without the risks of damaging your skin. If you choose to use a self-tanner, it's important to know that this type of tan does not give you sun protection. Be sure to wear sunscreen when you're in the sun; a self-tanner won't give you any protection.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 Surprising facts about indoor tanning.

  2. Borradale DC, Kimlin MG. Folate degradation due to ultraviolet radiation: possible implications for human health and nutritionNutrition Reviews. 2012;70(7):414-422. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00485.x

  3. La Leche League. Tanning beds and fake tans.

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Dermatology: Indoor Tanning.

  • Artificial Tanning Booths and Cancer. Cancer.gov.

  • Cancer.org. Tanning Beds Pose Serious Cancer Risk, Agency Says.

By Tracee Cornforth
Tracee Cornforth is a freelance writer who covers menstruation, menstrual disorders, and other women's health issues.