Those who support the tanning salon industry tend to taut the supposed health benefits of tanning beds. As soon as one opposes their views, they tend to accuse our resources as being biased and guilty of using “sun-scare” tactics. I decided to dig a little deeper and find out what others might say about tanning bed benefits as related to psoriasis, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD ), and Vitamin D deficiency.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation,” Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune disease that appears on the skin. It occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. Psoriasis is not contagious. Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the U.S. As many as 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.”
There are various treatments for psoriasis, including phototherapy. One type of phototherapy is using UVB radiation, either broad-band or narrow-band, with the latter providing quicker results. It should be noted that all phototherapy treatments require a prescription.
UVA rays, which are the primary UV radiation of tanning beds, are relatively ineffective unless used with a light-sensitizing medication. There seem to be more side-effects with UVA treatment and this method is more effective on psoriasis of the palms and soles.
Regarding the use of tanning beds, the National Psoriasis Foundation states the following: “Some people visit tanning salons as an alternative to natural sunlight. Tanning beds in commercial salons emit mostly UVA light, not UVB. The beneficial effect for psoriasis is attributed primarily to UVB light. The National Psoriasis Foundation does not support the use of tanning beds as a treatment option for psoriasis.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Per the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” One course of treatment for SAD is another type of phototherapy.
In light therapy, a person with SAD sits a few feet away from a bright light therapy box which mimics outdoor light and causes chemicals in the brain to change, thus improving the mood. It has been stated by the tanning industry that tanning beds provide the type of light necessary for proper treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is simply not true.
The Mayo Clinic discusses this a bit more. “Some people claim that tanning beds help ease seasonal affective disorder symptoms. But this hasn't been proved to work. Visible light, not the UV light released by tanning beds, is used in light therapy. The type of light released by tanning beds can damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.”
Vitamin D Deficiency
This is probably the number one “health benefit” cited by the tanning industry. In fact, I recall hearing one NC State legislator argue against a tanning bed bill based solely on the supposed vitamin D benefits.
It’s difficult to find any unbiased information regarding vitamin D and tanning beds. Tanning supporters obviously see tanning beds as a cure-all for vitamin D deficiency. Organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation side towards debunking the benefits all together. I tried to read a little of both sides as well as unbiased articles to formulate my own opinion.
There is no doubt that vitamin D is important to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus and aids in increasing bone density. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Vitamin D is found in many dietary sources, such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies.” Other sources claim that 20 minutes of exposure on the arms and face alone will also provide enough daily vitamin D.
Recall that sunlight contains both UVA and UVB radiation. Vitamin D absorption occurs during exposure to UVB rays. As stated before, tanning beds primarily emit UVA rays. It stands to reason that standard tanning beds offer no real benefit for increasing vitamin D levels.
There are some tanning beds that emit mostly UVB rays. Studies performed at Boston University concluded that such tanning beds do increase vitamin D production. However, most general practitioners and dermatologists will recommend simple vitamin D supplements. From my own personal experience, I was found to have a deficiency about 3 years ago. My doctor recommended that I take a daily 1000 IU supplement. The cost of this daily pill is about 2 cents per day! Since that time, my levels have been well within the normal range.
In short, vitamin D levels can be increased by tanning beds, but ONLY from those designed to emit UVB rays. Most standard tanning beds at tanning salons are not such tanning units. An equally effective and safer mode of increasing your vitamin D levels is through various dietary sources and/or through daily supplements. “Taking vitamin D supplements instead of tanning, either in a tanning bed or in natural sunlight, does not carry the same risk for skin cancer.” – LiveStrong Foundation
As always, do the research yourself. There are plenty of websites sponsored and written by associations and businesses supporting the tanning industry. There are also many sites devoted to skin health that discourage the use of tanning beds.
After reading many sites over several days, I’ve concluded that there are no health benefits from using tanning beds that one can’t find through an alternative source. In some cases, the preferred treatments of various ailments are significantly more effective and possibly less expensive. There’s no point risking skin cancer for a health benefit that simply doesn’t exist.