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Tanning beds cause skin cancer

What you may have heard

According to a 2012 report conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, when contacted by Committee investigators, 90% of tanning salon staff provided false information about the serious risks of indoor tanning and made false claims about the health benefits that indoor tanning provides (AAD).

What science tells us

Worldwide, there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking (SCF). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved tanning beds to the highest cancer-risk category: carcinogenic to humans (FDA). 

Whether it occurs outdoors or indoors, tanning is a visual sign of DNA damage to your skin. Tanning is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and causes damage to the outermost layer of skin cells. There is no such thing as a “safe” or “healthy tan” (AAD). There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that tanning can be addictive. Among 18- to 30-year-old white women who use indoor tanning, 20% show signs of addiction (AAD).

Epidemiological Evidence

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there is a 75% increased risk of developing life-threatening melanoma from just one indoor tanning session before the age of 35 (SCF). Tanning also increases your risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Laboratory Evidence/ Supportive Evidence

The results of animal studies generally support the observation from epidemiological studies that UV exposure is associated with skin cancer risk (Gober et al.). 

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans: UV-emitting tanning beds)

How to reduce your risk

Avoiding tanning entirely is the best way to protect against skin damage. If you still want the look, there are many lotions that give a bronzed look without adding sun.

If you spend time in the sun, use sun protection; it is never too late to start protecting your skin. As soon as you stop tanning, your body begins to repair some of the damage caused by UV rays (AAD).

When choosing a sunscreen, make sure the label says broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, and water resistant. Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen can protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, and water resistance means that the sunscreen will stay on wet or sweaty skin for between 40 to 80 minutes (AAD).

Bottom line

Indoor tanning (as well as outdoor tanning) increases your risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, and should be avoided.

Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF): Indoor tanning
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association: Indoor tanning
Anne Arundel Dermatology: Tanning statistics
Mayo Clinic: Tanning bed Q&A
Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Risks of ultraviolet rays
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): How to select a sunscreen


Published: June 30, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022