While the tanning industry has long argued that a “base tan”—achieved gradually over time—will provide protection from sunburn, more and more evidence is finding that’s just not true.
The World Health Organization argues that the UVA rays used in indoor tanning salons penetrate the skin deeper and can still contribute to skin cancer. There is also no evidence to support claims that UV exposure from tanning beds is any less harmful than UV exposure from the sun. It’s estimated that a “base tan” achieved from tanning indoors offers protection that’s roughly equivalent to sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of just 2-3. That’s significantly less than the recommended SPF of at least 30.
Dermatologist Lisa Kellett, MD, agrees that it is never safe to tan. A base tan offers “only minimal protection, so the risk is not worth it,” she says.
According to the latest research from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center, using an indoor tanning bed increases the risk of melanoma skin cancer by 74 percent. With recent research from the Mayo Clinic finding a dramatic rise of skin cancer among young adults (under the age of 40), and in particular young women, researchers believe that the use of indoor tanning beds is largely to blame.
The bottom line: Fake it, don’t bake it.