Indoor Tanning

An estimated 1 million Americans visit tanning salons every day, and the tanning industry earns over 5 billion dollars per year. Tanning devices such as sunlamps are also available for home use. Since the tanning industry is largely unregulated, it is important to be aware of the risks involved in using tanning equipment.

Long-term use of tanning devices and sunlamps is associated with premature skin aging, the development of cataracts, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Several studies show that use of tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of developing melanoma. The use of tanning devices is also associated with malignant melanoma of the eye.

Learn More About Tanning and Burning

How Artificial Tanning Devices Work

In the same way that the sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, artificial tanning devices such as sun beds and sunlamps also emit UV radiation. The only difference is that the specific type and quantity of UV radiation produced from an artificial tanning device can be controlled. Some sun beds emit UV radiation 5 times the strength of the midday summer sun.

The introduction of “fast tanning” or “10-minute” devices is highly unsafe as they emit dangerously high doses of UV radiation. Remember, your skin produces a tan when it has been damaged by ultraviolet light. The skin does not care what the source is, or whether someone labels it as “safe.” If your skin has tanned, it is because damage has already occurred, and the skin is doing its best to prevent it from happening again.

Sun Bed Safety

There is good evidence that tanning, whether by sunlight or a sun bed, can lead to skin cancer and skin aging. The link between skin cancer and UV radiation exposure is quite simple – the greater the exposure to UV radiation, the greater the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Dangers of Indoor Tanning: A Fact Sheet

Who Tans and How Often?

  • More than 1 million people use an indoor tanning salon on an average day in the U.S. 1
  • Nearly 28 million individuals use a tanning device in the U.S. annually. Of these, 2.3 million are teens.2,3
  • Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon customers are Caucasian girls and women, primarily between the ages of 16 to 29.4
  • Thirty-five percent of American adults, 59 percent of college students, and 17 percent of teens have reported using a tanning device in their lifetime. 5
  • Teens are not just using indoor tanning beds for proms and homecoming; a 2011 national survey of high school students concluded that 13.3% used indoor tanning devices at least once in the past year with more than one-quarter of all 17-year-old girls reporting use. Among 17-year-old non-Hispanic white girls who tan, an alarming 62% reported doing so ten or more times in 2011.6

Human Carcinogen

The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known human carcinogen.7

Stronger than the Sun

Indoor tanning equipment, which includes all artificial light sources, including beds, lamps, bulbs, booths, etc., emits UVA and UVB radiation. The amount of the radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and in some cases, may be stronger. 8,9

The Younger You Start, the Higher Your Risk

  • Those who begin tanning before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 59 percent. 10,11
  • The use of tanning beds by young people aged 18 to 39 increased their risk of developing melanoma by an average of 41 percent. 12

DNA Damage

Studies have found that exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning damages the DNA in the skin cells. Excessive exposure to UV radiation during indoor tanning can lead to premature skin aging, immune suppression, and eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma. 1,13,14,15,16

Higher Rate of Cancer

  • Those who use an indoor tanning bed are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basel cell carcinoma. 17
  • A 2014 meta-analysis estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer may be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year: 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,000 melanomas.18

What about Vitamin D?

Indoor tanning beds/lamps should be avoided and should not be used to obtain Vitamin D because UV radiation from indoor tanning is a risk factor for skin cancer. Vitamin D can be obtained by eating a healthy diet and by taking oral supplements.


  • In a 2009 study, 58 percent of adolescent tanning bed users had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps. 19
  • An estimated 3,234 indoor tanning-related injuries were treated each year in US hospital emergency departments from 2003 to 2012.20

Circumstances in Which It’s Safe to Use Tanning Devices

The only time an artificial tanning device should be used is in the medical procedure of phototherapy. This process of exposing the body to UV radiation may be useful in the treatment of a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis and dermatitis. These treatments should only be conducted under medical supervision.

Regulations Governing the Use of Sun Beds

Only eleven states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of tanning devices for those under the age of 18. In most states there is no mandatory training for people operating tanning facilities and there is no requirement for equipment to be checked or serviced regularly. This poses a huge risk to people who continue to use tanning facilities. There is also no legislation in the majority of U.S. states to prevent minors from using tanning devices. Click below to find out if your state has instituted these laws.

Does your state regulate tanning devices?

The majority of US states have no legislation around tanning equipment. Is yours one of them?

Learn More About Legislation


1. Whitmore SE, Morison, WL Potten CS, Chadwick C. Tanning Salon Exposure and Molecular Alterations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2001;44:775-80.
2. Kwon HT, Mayer JA, Walker KK, Yu H, Lewis EC, Belch GE. Promotion of Frequent Tanning Sessions by Indoor Tanning Facilities: Two Studies. J Am Acad Dematol 2002;46:700-5.
3. Dellavalle RP, Parker ER, Ceronsky N, Hester EJ, Hemme B, Burkhardt DL, et al. Youth Access Laws: In the Dark at the Tanning Parlor? Arch Dermatol 2003;139:443-8.
4. Swerdlow AJ, Weinstock MA. Do Tanning Lamps Cause Melanoma? An Epidemiologic Assessment. J Am Acad Dermatol 1998;38:89-98.
5. Wehner MR, Chren M, Nameth D, et al. International Prevalence of Indoor Tanning: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.JAMA Dermatol. 2014;():. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.
6. Guy G, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine Published online August 19, 2013.
7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. Report on Carcinogens, 11th ed: Exposure to Sunlamps or Sunbeds.
8. Gilchrest BA. Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Sufficiency. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;88:570-75.
9. Hornung RL, Magee KH, Lee WJ, Hansen LA, Hsieh YC. Tanning Facility Use: Are We Exceeding the Food and Drug Administration Limits? J Am Acad Dermatol 2003;49:655-61.
10. Boniol B, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. "Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis". British Medical Journal, 2012; 345:e4757. Correction published December 2012; 345:e8503.
11. The International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on artificial ultraviolet (UV) light and skin cancer "The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review." International Journal of Cancer. 2007 March 1;120:111-1122.
12. Cust AE, Armstrong BK, Goumas C, Jenkins MA, Schmid H, Hopper JL, Kefford, RF et al. Sunbed Use During Adolescence and Early Adulthood is Associated with Increased Risk of Early-Onset Melanoma. Int Journal of Cancer. 2011 May 1:128(10):2425-35.
13. Piepkorn M. Melanoma Genetics: An Update With Focus on the CDKN2A(p16)/ARF Tumor Suppressors. J. Am Acad Dermatol. 2000 May;42(5 Pt 1):705-22; quiz 723-6.
14. Vajdic CM, Kricker A, Giblin M, McKenzie J, Aitken JF, Giles GG, Armstrong BK. Artificial Ultraviolet Radiation and Ocular Melanoma in Australia. Int J Cancer. 2004 Dec 10;112(5):896-900.
15. Walters BL, Kelly TM. Commerical Tanning Facilities: A New Source of Eye Injury. Am J Emerg Med 1987;120:767-77.
16. Clingen PH, Berneburg M. Petit=Frere C, Woollons A, Lowe JE, Arlett CF, Green MH. Contrasting Effects of an Ultraviolet B and an Ultraviolet A Tanning Lamp on Interleukin-6,
Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha and Intercellurlar Adhesion Molecule-1 Expression. Br J Dermatol. 2001 Jul;145(1):54-62.
17. Karagas MR, Stannard VA, Mott LA, Slattery MJ, Spencer SK, Weinstock MA. Use of Tanning Devices and Risk of Basel Cell Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst 2002;94:224-6.
18. Wehner MR, Chren M, Nameth D, et al. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(4):390-400.
19. Cokkinides V, Weinstock MA, Lazovich D, Ward E, Thun M. Indoor Tanning Use Among Adolescents in the US, 1998-2004. Cancer 2009:115:190-98.
20. Guy G, et al. JAMA Internal Medicine Published online December 15, 2014.

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