Can Tanning Have a Health Benefit?

If you’ve followed my blog for the past week or so, you’ll know I had the blessing of going to a tanning bed for the first time. The good news is, the tanning bed appears to be working  better/faster than any of the other things I’ve tried so far. The bad news is that tanning beds are terrifying.

Tanning is not something I was excited to trying given its link to skin cancer. From what I read online, people had results after spending less than 15 minutes every other day in the bed. I figured that short amount of time couldn’t be too harmful.

When I walked in to the nearest tanning salon, I told the woman behind the counter that I didn’t care about the color of my skin. I was there for therapeutic purposes. After some nervous chit-chat about how I never saw tanning as a health benefit, the woman told me tanning can have other benefits. Apparently, it can help with depression and a few other mental issues. She herself found the experience relaxing.

After my tour, she set me up in the beginner room. There was a timer counting down from eight minutes. That’s how long I had to disrobe, put on the tanning lotion and jump in. Did you know you can’t use suntan lotion in a tanning bed? It ruins the bed. Instead, I bought a special lotion whose purpose is to allow the rays to penetrate the skin further. I think it’s supposed to make the tan happen faster, but I’m not sure.

You have to work up to a 15+ minute session. Being my first time ever in a bed, they set me up for six minutes. I laid there with my eye protection, the radio on, waiting for the bed to start before I closed it on myself. The woman behind the counter told me it was big inside so claustrophobia wouldn’t be an issue unless I had it really bad (apparently there are tanning beds where the top is literally right on your face).

The machine clicked on and I closed myself into the bed. Almost immediately, I worried my eye protection wouldn’t stay on. The fans were running at my head and feet and this loud tumbling sound fought to dominate the sound of the radio in the background. I felt like the machine was vibrating slightly, although that may have been me. I was the opposite of comfortable and had no idea what to expect. Breathing deeply through my nose, I put all my focus on the radio.

This photo, “tanning bed” is copyright (c) 2014 Whatsername? and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
This photo, “tanning bed” is copyright (c) 2014 Whatsername? and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Another fear of mine was that there would be a mistake and I’d actually be there for longer than six minutes. Focusing on the music, I told myself I’d get out after two songs. Two songs and six minutes would have passed. When everything finally clicked off, the second song wasn’t quite over.

Despite my anxiety towards tanning, the experience felt short. I walked out the door less than 20  minutes after I walked in, astounded that anyone could find that experience comfortable, relaxing or therapeutic. It must be something you have to get used to.

I had three sessions last week, which seem to be working. A part of me wonders if this is an illusion. Perhaps the rest of my skin is simply turning to a color similar to the color of the marks. That’s still better than nothing. If nothing else, the improvement in my skin gave me more confidence to pull off Tifa Lockhart.

Tanning is still terrifying and I’ll never go back once this is all cleared up. Still, my opinion on the practice has shifted just a bit. Perhaps tanning, when done right and not in excess, can cause a benefit. Maybe it doesn’t have to cause cancer. A quick Google search found people with psoriasis and eczema have seen significant benefits from tanning, although most sites recommend phototherapy overseen by a doctor over the traditional tanning bed. That’s great if you have that option, but since my doctor’s prescription was ‘there’s nothing I can do,’ I have to take this into my own hands.

Still, I find myself asking, is tanning really that bad? I’m not denying it causes cancer, especially when done in excess, but a lot of other things can do that, too.

One of the first results I found when searching for tanning bed benefits was a WebMD article from 2009. The feel of the article is that tanning causes cancer and should be avoided at all cost, but the quote from the researcher states, “We were not able to examine possible causes for this increase [in cancer], but there is a lot of evidence that it is related to tanning.” So, if I’m understanding this right, there is correlation between the increasing number of people who tan and the increasing number of people who get skin cancer, not causation? This was written in 2009, we probably have causation by now, right?

I guess the jury is really still out in my head. Eating sugar in excess, meat in excess or consuming alcohol in excess has also been linked to cancer and many other health conditions. I don’t see the World Health Organization promoting the idea these activities should be completely abandoned. The key is moderation. Perhaps tanning is in that group, too, safe with moderation.

Have you ever used a tanning bed before? How did you feel laying there? What do you think about the cancer worries surrounding tanning? Can tanning be therapeutic with moderation? How much tanning would you consider excess?


39 thoughts on “Can Tanning Have a Health Benefit?”

  1. Yikes! For people like me of the ginger persuasion, tanning beds and excessive sunlight are like torture devices.

    1. I can imagine. The bed had a chart on the side of it that recommended people with light or sensitive skin stay far away

  2. Please read this short article derived from the American Medical Association’s Dermatology journal:

    “Study finds more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than lung cancer cases due to smoking.”

    If that doesn’t scare the protective goggles off you, I don’t know what will.

    TK, take it from someone who’s twice your age and who has sun-damaged skin: keep your skin porcelain white. Just Say No to UV (natural or artificial) exposure. I use Jergens self-tanner and have a wonderful, natural-looking glow. It doesn’t smell and it’s top-rated. Get thee to a Walgreens and stay out of the tanning salon!

    1. I hear that, I really do, but my question is how much. How much does one stint in a tanning bed increase the risk? If you only went for a few minutes once a week or once a month, would the numbers still be high? The fact I even bother to do this is a sign of how desperate I am. I could care less about being tan. I just want these godforsaken marks on my skin to go away. The second their gone, I’m happy.

  3. I’ve never been in a tanning bed before. Just looking at the picture of the inside and hearing your description had me trying to catch my breath from anxiety. I tan very easily and not from trying, it’s just my skin type. I swim almost daily for exercise and hike on the weekends with my husband, I wear 50spf sun block as my daily lotion/moisturizer and I reapply it throughout the day. I do worry about skin cancer because I’m outdoors so much, but I can’t imagine not being outside on a daily basis–that would make me really depressed. In fact, I do feel down in the winter when I’m stuck indoors more.

    1. I know! And here they were telling me tanning can help anxiety. Maybe tanning outdoors can do that, but those machines are horrifying.

  4. I actually worked at a tanning salon for a while…and I was the palest employee there! I started with this idea it would remind me of the beach if I worked there and FREE TANNING! I went only a handful of times and then really just got freaked out about the skin cancer thing…and you get wrinkles a lot faster than normal. I actually don’t mind laying in the bed though, I can almost fall asleep! But the first time ever is weird….you really think…did I do this right?

    1. I’ve done this three times and it’s still weird. I don’t intend to make it a habit. I just want my skin to clear up. Then I’ll never look back. The skin cancer thing does freak me out though. That’s why I ask the question, how much is too much. Is tanning always terrible, or is it terrible in excess?

      1. I think it’s just terrible in excess…or if you ever get sun burnt (but that’s always bad) ; But it really does help with clearing up the skin, I can testify for that.

  5. Like everything in life excess use or intake is not the way to go.
    I owned a tanning bed. I used it like couple of times a year to have the skin adjust to sun. And not burn so quickly. Now I do not need to any more. I rather catch a morning sun.helps me feel better as well and not so confined.
    It also helps with stress and tiredness.

    We seem to know so much. Sun CAN cause skin cancer. the UV that is/
    Yet we use sunlight to create our own vitamins. so we still need it.
    what ever researchers say it is all in excess use. so as long as we know how to use out brain and balance things out we do fine.

    So tanning bed or sunshine either used in excess is bad for health.
    In other words use wisely and with care 😀

    Great article

    1. I just wish someone defined in excess somewhere. All I really want to know is, if I go 3 – 4 times a week just for two week and never go again, am I good? Or, is going to often a huge problem. I don’t know. Everything has started to clear up anyway, so I may not go again and just let what’s left work itself out.

      1. The problem with excess is that nobody knows. It takes years of study they say but those studies usually only focus on one side so those studies never are a true view on things.

        My experience is the 3 4 times a week fro two weeks is what i used before going into the summer sun. It did help.
        And I understand your concern. but effects do not always show starlight away.
        We need sun I know I do and so i visit the morning sun often as I can. find the shades in afternoon when sun is strongest. And we be fine. As for tanning bed. Never again I feel better outside.

        Second of which that a body needs a two weeks adjusting period.Before they start showing result. So adding a third week is not so bad. It is not that you use it an hour is it. first timers use it for 15 minutes?
        Mind these opinions are formed after listening to my own body.

        1. I would rather have used the sun, but it has been raining so much that that’s not possible…. that I wanted to expose certain areas not fit for public exposure…. I didn’t care about getting color, although the three times I went have clearly given me a tan. People noticed.

          As far as how long first timers are in there, they had me go for six minutes in the beginner bed. The second time, since I didn’t get pink, they let me in for seven minutes. I did get pink that time, so a few days latter, I went in for another seven minutes. I don’t think I’m going to bother going back, though. Everything has cleared up. I’m back to my beautiful self ^_^

    1. Yes, but saying is causes cancer is so simple. Does it cause cancer after one use, 10 uses? Does the number matter or is the frequency the problem? Because if a handful of tanning sessions will get rid of what I have, then that’s what I’m inclined to do. Nothing else works as well. Obviously, once all this stuff is gone, I’m done with tanning.

    2. Keep in mind that most media companies are funded or sponsored by big corporations and government.

      Dermatologists and pharmaceutical companies are the leading people against sunbeds for the simple reason that they will cut into their bottom line.

      Think about it: The UV Rays from the sun and a tanning bed are essentially the same, when people get enough sun exposure it reduces if not eliminate all sorts of diseases caused by vitamin d deficiency, acne, psoriasis & so many more things.

      With people free of all of these problems, these companies then lose sales from their treatments and drugs.

  6. I used a tanning bed for awhile at the beginning of this year. My sister was complaining that I’m too pale, my legs are blindingly white. Oh god I’m a big white glowing horror to the eyes. I’ve gotten that a lot when I hang out with tan people, but for some reason I let her words affect me so I went. I discovered it’s too expensive for me to tan. There’s only 1 lotion I can use that doesn’t have Proplyene Glycol and it’s $50-$60 😦

    It was a little strange laying in there for me. I felt like I was in a big human oven. Also, after the 1st time I noticed some parts of my body were creased the whole time so I was light peach with some white lines in some places. It just didn’t work out for me.

    I agree that if done in moderation the whole cancer thing shouldn’t be a huge issue. I can see how laying in there and not having to worry about anything for the next 6-10min can be therapeutic to some. I would consider tanning twice a day for a week to be excessive. I’d also like to mention that the super dark girls who look almost black may not necessarily be tanning excessively, they may just be using Dark Star Tanning Lotion.

    1. I really wish there was more out there in terms of data. I’d like the tanning industry to do something, say “Yes, when done in excess, this can cause cancer. But if you only go this much, you’re fine.” Someone really needs to look into this.

    2. There are a lot more tanning lotions than you can ever imagine and if you go to the proper salon you should always be able to find one in your budget! BTW, tanning lotion is not necessary, it is just recommended to excel your tan thus in the long run, save you time and money! If all the tanning lotions in your area are too expensive, just use a good quality moisturizer before and after each tanning session and you’ll be fine!

      In regards to the white lines, many people have this problem! An easy fix is to go for a session or two in a stand up booth every couple of weeks to even out those spots!

  7. Uh, I wouldn’t do this. Ever. We’re exposed to enough carcinogens in our environment that we can’t avoid, but this is one you can steer clear of. That being said, apparently there is an epidemic of low Vitamin D levels now, and I think I read that sitting in the sun for 15-30 minutes a few times a week is actually good for you and your vitamin D levels. But that’s entirely different than baking in a tanning bed.

    1. One of the reasons I choose the tanning bed is because it’s been raining like crazy in Chicagoland. That, and there are areas I would like to expose where are not decent to expose in public. I’m not sure if I’ll go back or not though. As I said, it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. I just wanted to make this stuff go away.

    2. The UV Rays from the sun and the UV Rays from a tanning bed are more similar than you think. In general, tanning beds emit 95% UVA and 5% UVB which is exactly the same as the sun.

      Some people try to claim that tanning beds are 15-20 times stronger then the sun which in reality they are only 2-3 times which is most people only need to go in a tanning bed for only 10 minutes at the most.

      Before trying to bash something, you should do non-biased extensive research into the topic so you are more well informed.

        1. I’m not being biased, I am speaking facts. Facts that most people fail to research themselves because they believe anything that comes out of a “doctor’s” mouth. If you want to live in the dark, by all means just listen to that tube in the corner of your living room. If you want the truth, then find it yourself.

          1. The last place I’m going to look for the truth is from someone like you. You have an obvious agenda. And if, heaven forbid, you ever develop skin cancer, I’m sure you’ll be visiting one of those “doctors” you refer to with such contempt in order to receive treatment.

            1. Miranda, I’m not telling you to listen to me, I’m suggesting that you do the research yourself and you will find the real facts.

              Right now in North America 2.1 in 100,000 people are DIAGNOSED (consider how many people are misdiagnosed, which is ALOT) with melanoma (skin cancer) that’s .000021% of the population. This statistic has been unchanged for the past 40+ years. Tanning salons only got to be a “big deal” in the early to mid 80’s.
              Now tell me again how tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer what so ever if you don’t burn or over expose yourself?

              If you’re interested, I know a man that is offering $5,000 to anyone that can provide him with one REAL study that links tanning to cancer or ANY disease without Skin type 1 people or overexposure included in the study, he’s been offering this for the last 10 years and has not had one person been able to claim it.

  8. I never tanned, but my sister did, and she wound up with skin cancer (she’s also very blonde, light skinned with blonde eyes). I agree that there are a number of things that can cancer, and you never really know, but I prefer to stay away from tanning beds. People need to get more sun, I think we stay inside too much, but tanning beds are just not the way to go. Again – my own opinion, and I’ve done no research, besides knowing that not getting enough sunlight can cause depression.

    1. Yeah, it’s not something I want to do long term. The cancer thing is just too much. The only reason I did this is out of desperation. I’m sorry for your sister. I hope it all worked out okay.

    2. You should always do research so you can make a more educated opinion!

      I’m also sorry to hear about your sister but I have a few questions about her diagnosis.

      1) Did she ever find out her own Skin Type?
      2) Did she tan in a professional facility?
      3) What kind of cancer was she diagnosed with/was it fatal?

  9. Having worked in salons with on site tanning for several years (when I was younger) I’ve tanned way more than I should have. I have to admit, the tanning beds (not the stand-up ones though) caused me anxiety every single time, especially after one clicked and locked and I couldn’t open it. Major panic attack from that one!

    1. OMG! You got locked in one!? What was that like? I hope it didn’t stay on while you were stuck. I don’t even want to imagine the burn.

      1. The timer turned the bed off eventually, but every minute I was in there I was sticking my legs and arms out, but my head would fit. Just knowing I couldn’t open it was enough to keep me out of them and in stand-up ones only for a long while.

  10. It’s fantastic you’ve done research yourself and have come to an educated decision based on your findings (most people in today’s society believe anything someone in a white coat says, which is ridiculous!).

    If you do extensive research you will find that there is no study or evidence in existence that links tanning in a professional salon with proper exposure times (NEVER BURNING) and not including skin type 1 people (people who physically cannot develop a tan) to any kind of cancers or diseases.

    However, you will find an epidemic of Vitamin D Deficiency ever since people have been slapping on that sunscreen & Vitamin D Deficient people are prone to all kinds of horrible things such as lung cancer, breast cancer, MS, erectile dysfunction and much more.

    If you want to discuss this topic any further please don’t hesitate to contact me, happy tanning!

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