The Facts about Indoor Tanning and Skin Cancer

When it comes to public awareness, skin cancer is a bit of an anomaly. We’ve all heard of it, we all know what causes it, and we all know that it’s rather common, but for most people, the true understanding that “it could happen to me” never quite sinks in. So today, we’re tackling one of the largest culprits of skin cancer: indoor tanning.

the facts about skin cancer and indoor tanningWe all know how damaging the sun’s rays can be, and sometimes there is a misconception that tanning indoors is safer because the exposure is controlled. However, this is untrue—indoor tanning is not safer than outdoor tanning. To settle some of the myths and debates regarding safe tanning, we’ve compiled a list of facts that answer some of the frequent questions we hear about indoor tanning:

  • You aren’t safe from skin cancer if you’ve only used a tanning bed a few times. Skin cancer like melanoma often develops as a result of cumulative sun exposure, including simple day-to-day exposure like running errands or gardening. Indoor tanning simply adds to the sun exposure that many patients receive every day, and while there isn’t a set amount of sun exposure that causes cancer to develop, we do know that it can happen without spending an hour a week working on a tan.
  • Recent studies referenced by the American Academy of Dermatology have concluded that people who have used indoor tanning have a 59% higher risk of developing skin cancer, and the risk increases with each tanning session. Considering that 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, increasing the risk even further can be life-changing.
  • Indoor tanning is not as uncommon as we would like to believe. In fact, every year an estimated 30 million people use tanning beds in the US alone.
  • Many people already know that each sunburn raises a person’s risk of skin cancer, but according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, indoor tanning increases the risk of cancer even for those who don’t burn, so beware of the myth that no sunburn means no cancer risk.
  • Skin cancer isn’t the only downside to indoor tanning—it can also lead to premature aging, a weakened immune system, and eye damage. In fact, a recent study in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that thousands of US emergency room visits each year are attributed to injuries from indoor tanning.
  • Depending on the type and features of the lesion, skin cancer may be treated with cryosurgery, customized prescription topical medications, Mohs surgery, or laser treatments.
  • The only safe tan is one that is achieved with self-tanner, or sunless tanning lotion. There are many products available to give you the bronze glow you love without risking your health.


The good news is that skin cancer is extremely preventable and has a 98% cure rate when it’s detected early. That’s why many organizations are dedicated to educating people about the risk factors for skin cancer and what they can do to protect themselves. One such organization is Mollie’s Fund. In memory of a college sophomore named Mollie Biggane, who died of skin cancer at the age of 20, Mollie’s Fund recently began an educational campaign using a unique and innovative way to bring home the reality of skin cancer. This powerful video shows the results of setting up a fake tanning salon where, after receiving a coupon for a “free killer tan,” patrons who thought they were being led to a tanning bed were instead taken to a room that showed them the very real risk they were taking.

Regardless of whether you’ve used indoor tanning, we’re all at risk for skin cancer. At Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA), we always stress the importance of annual skin cancer screenings by one of our highly skilled providers, as well as monthly self-checks so that you can more quickly notice any spots that are changing or growing. Contact us to schedule your skin cancer screening before the sun grows more powerful for the summer, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for daily health tips and updates.