Without Burning, Indoor Tanning Still Poses Serious Risk

Indoor tanning strongly associated with melanoma

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people use tanning booths to achieve a golden tan, believing they are avoiding burns and subsequently skin cancer by doing so. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

Even without burning, indoor tanning was strongly linked with melanoma in a recent study.

Melanoma is not the most common skin cancer, but it does have the highest mortality rate.

"Limit your exposure to UV rays, whether from the sun or tanning beds."

This research was led by Rachel Isaksson Vogel, a research fellow at the Masonic Cancer Center in Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Melanoma is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. People are exposed to UV rays from sunshine, or from specialized lights like those used in tanning booths.

Vogel and her fellow researchers found that there was an increased risk of melanoma from the lights used in indoor tanning even among those who regularly tanned but never burnt.

Between 2004 and 2007, the researchers enrolled 1,167 people diagnosed with invasive, cutaneous melanoma (melanoma skin cancer that is spreading) from the Minnesota state cancer registry into their study. All the participants were 25 to 59 years of age. The researchers also enrolled 1,101 healthy people who were the same sex and age.

Study participants answered a questionnaire and participated in telephone interviews. They were asked about sun exposure, sunscreen use, indoor tanning use, education, income and family history of melanoma. They were also asked if they'd had a sunburn that was painful and lasted more than one day, either before they were the age of 18 or after. The participants were given a rating from 1 (low) to 5 (high) for risk for melanoma based on hair color, eye color and tanning ability.

Among all of the participants, 56.8 percent reported five or more lifetime sunburns, while just 5.3 percent reported never being sunburnt.

The researchers reported that among individuals who reported never having had a sunburn but having melanoma, the odds of being an indoor tanning user were almost four times higher than those who were not diagnosed with skin cancer.

The researchers concluded that indoor tanning and ultraviolet ray exposure appeared to be a risk factor for melanoma, even when there was no sunburn.

The take-home message is that tanning booths are dangerous, said Brian Lawenda, , MD, National Director of Integrative Oncology and Cancer Survivorship at 21st Century Oncology and founder of IntegrativeOncology-Essentials.

“The results of this study should serve as a strong cautionary warning to anyone who is still under the false impression that indoor tanning is safer than tanning outside in the sunlight,” Dr. Lawenda told dailyRx News. “The indoor tanning industry markets to consumers with the claim that since indoor tanning is done in a controlled environment, the chance of burning is lower and thus there is a lower risk of skin cancer. The investigators of this study have given us good evidence that refutes this 'safety' assumption. Indoor tanning is dangerous and certainly not safer than tanning in the sun.”

About 76,100 new melanomas will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.

This study appears in the May 29 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
May 27, 2014
Last Updated:
May 29, 2014