Alberta Cancer Foundation

The Skinny on Tanning

Tanorexics – a pop-culture term for those addicted to the bronzed look, who often seek the extra fix of tanning beds – now like to justify their ultraviolet overexposure by pointing to new research that recommends we all need more vitamin D. If most Canadians are vitamin D deficient, they say the solution is to seek more UV rays to stimulate our bodies’ production of the sunshine vitamin.

Nice try, but here’s the reality behind that “convenient truth” from a medical expert: “Fifteen minutes of summer sun is enough to satisfy your vitamin D requirements,” says Dr. Michael Smylie, a Cross Cancer Institute oncologist who specializes in melanoma treatment. “There’s no added health gain after that, just increased risk of skin damage.”

If you need more vitamin D in the winter, take a pill. “Vitamin D produced by a tanning bed is not better than a vitamin supplement,” says Smylie. “Don’t believe the industry’s manipulated data.” Smylie recommends a daily D-dose of 2,000 mg. And bypass the beds. “The medical community would like to restrict the use of tanning beds to those over 18,” Smylie notes. “They’re carcinogenic, the 21st century equivalent of tobacco.” Some beds emit 15 times the radiation of the midday summer sun.

The evidence is already in: scientific studies since 2007 show that using a tanning bed prior to age 35 creates a three-time greater risk of melanoma and increases risk for all ages. UVA rays are just as harmful as UVB rays, no matter what the tanning brochure says, and no tanning device is safer than another. And no, a little bed-time for a brown base before heading south in the winter isn’t worth it. Having some colour won’t protect against skin cancer, or even a future burn, since UV rays still penetrate browned skin. And let’s also lay to rest the classic myth that you need to burn to tan. If you need a “tan” fast, try the spray-on fake kind, but remember, you’ll still need sunscreen.

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