A Golden Sunbed Tan

A tanning bed or sunbed is a device emitting ultraviolet radiation (typically 95% UVA and 5% UVB, +/- 3%) used to produce a cosmetic tan.

Most of us think that having tanned skin looks great and that it makes you feel good too. Some additional benefits to using a tanning bed are:

  • Production of vitamin D in the skin - especially in climate with little natural sunlight.
  • Infrared heat from the bulbs produce a "good warm feeling" which has deep penetrating action that can relieve minor muscle aches.
  • Exposure time to achieve the desired cosmetic result is much shorter with a bed than natural sunlight (although the tan will not be as deep).
  • May be able to help with the treatment of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
  • Tanning indoors can give the tanner control over the amount of tan achieved by controlling the exposure time and how often used.
  • After the desired level of tan is reached, a person can maintain that level of color with typically 1 to 2 sessions per week.
  • Some people with psoriasis or eczema are treated with UVB light therapy, and in mild cases, tanning beds can be an effective tool.

sunbed-tanning bed

Health organizations however, do not encourage the use of a sunbed as constant use can cause skin damage from the UV radiation with symptoms not appearing for up to 20 years.

Regular tanning beds use several fluorescent lamps having phosphor blends designed to emit UV in a spectrum somewhat similar to natural sunlight, producing UV (ultraviolet) rays, which is the same type of harmful radiation found in sunlight.

Tans from tanning beds are considered more dangerous than tanning from the sun, as the UV radiation penetrates deeper into the skin, is associated with certain types of skin cancer, can damage the eyes, and aging of the skin prematurely may result.

It is recommended that the following people avoid tanning beds completely:

  • Those under 16
  • Those with very fair skin
  • Those who burn easily or who tan badly
  • Those with lots of freckles and moles
  • Those who have had skin cancer or have a family history of the illness
  • Those using medication that could make their skin oversensitive to UV light


Exposure to UV, either naturally from the sun or from artificial sources such as from a sunbed, is a known risk factor for skin cancer. A tan is actually your body's attempt to protect itself from the damaging effect of these rays.

One in three cancers diagnosed worldwide is a skin cancer, with most skin cancers attributed to over-exposure to natural UV radiation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you should not use a tanning bed more than twice a week and for no more than 30 weeks of the year.

So are tanning beds good or bad? I guess it all depends on how much you want a tan and on how willing you are to risk the side effects. Its a decision you have to make for yourself and live with.


As long as sunbeds are available to the public, there is a need for guidelines or legislation to reduce the risks associated with their use.

The world Health Organization encourages governments to formulate and enforce effective laws governing the use of tanning beds, and it's recommendations are consistent with those of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the European Society for Skin Cancer Prevention (EUROSKIN).

Some key reasons why regulations are deemed necessary include:

  • Increase in the number of unsupervised commercial tanning beds and competitive pricing strategies such as unlimited sessions within a specific time frame, increases the likelihood of skin damage.
  • High intensity of UV output. Some machines have the capacity to emit very high levels of UV, many times stronger than the midday summer sun in most countries.
  • Exposure time and intervals between tanning sessions. Normally at least 48 hours are needed between tanning sessions for repair of UV-induced DNA damage to skin cells.
  • UV protective eye wear must be worn during tanning sessions to protect the eyes.
  • Effects of certain drugs and cosmetics. Some drugs like anti-depressants, make the skin more photosensitive and therefore decrease the time it takes for the skin to burn.
  • The size of the skin area exposed. Modern 'clam-type' tanning beds expose more skin area to UV than outdoor situations, therefore increasing the health risk of skin cancer.

If you really want a tan, using fake tan is a far safer option than a sunbed.

Fake tan comes in many forms, including creams, sprays and lotions, as well as spray-on tans from salons. Always check fake tan on a small patch of skin first before applying to your whole body in case of an allergic reaction.

When you're out in the sun, always use sun protection cream with a minimum factor of 15. Remember to re-apply it regularly, as well as after swimming, and try to avoid going out in the sun at its strongest (11 am-3 pm).

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