“Safe” Tanning Beds? Think Again.

Recently, I had Dr. Joe Mercola on as a guest of the show. His views on alternative medicine are cutting edge – and often very controversial – garnering millions of online followers as well as the scorn of mainstream medicine.

During our segment, Dr. Mercola recommended the use of “safe” UVB tanning beds for getting vitamin D. While vitamin D plays a number of major roles in our health and many Americans are deficient in this nutrient, the use of tanning beds is a highly controversial suggestion: The World Health Organization has recommended that no one use a tanning bed for cosmetic purposes, now listed as a “known human carcinogen.” This declaration was also made  by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which placed tanning beds in the same cancer-causing category as tobacco.

During this same segment, I was intrigued by Dr. Mercola's claims on the therapeutic value of these specific UVB-emitting tanning beds (most tanning beds use only UVA rays, which can cause damage far below the surface of the skin). As a doctor, it is my natural inclination to evaluate and question emerging information in science and medicine – but please do not misconstrue this as me changing my stance on the dangers of indoor tanning.

My beliefs are firmly aligned with those of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): Research shows that excessive ultraviolet radiation can lead to skin cancer. The bottom line is both UVA and UVB rays cause cancer. 

And it’s not just sunburn we’re talking about – the use of tanning beds can cause damage to collagen and elastin fibers, dermal blood vessels and other structures. Tanning can cause blotchy skin discolorations. To learn even more about the ugly side of tanning, click here.

Studies must be done to determine the value of UVB radiation, as suggested by Dr. Mercola. In the meantime, no one can conclusively claim that any tanning bed is safe. 

Until these assessments are complete, I recommend that you enjoy up to 15 minutes – at most – of natural sunlight without sunscreen to get your vitamin D and other sun-derived benefits. Or get it other ways: Many foods in the American diet are fortified with this essential nutrient. I also recommend a dose of 400 to 1000 IU of vitamin D a day via a supplement. To learn more about how to get your daily dose of vitamin D safely, click here.

Spread the word on the risks of tannning and just how serious and deadly skin cancer is. Read this moving story from the American Academy of Dermatology's recent Melanoma Awareness Campaign where a mother speaks about the loss of her 29-year-old daughter to melanoma.