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Five False Assumptions About Indoor Tanning

By |2018-08-29T09:28:48-04:00April 23rd, 2015|Categories: Health A-Z|

By Jason H. Miller, MD

At last, summer is almost here and we New Jerseyans are in the throes of preparing for beach trips and long relaxing days by the pool with friends and family. Part of the Jersey Shore lifestyle is showing off a great tan. It’s a status symbol that ranks up there with driving a convertible and wearing the right designer labels.

This time of year, some people are reticent to hit the beach without a “tan base” so they turn to the local tanning salon for help−where else can you get a tan at 10 p.m. or in the middle of January? Many shrug off the notion that these tanning beds can cause cancer.

As a local dermatologist, I’d like to set the record straight by starting with a sobering fact−studies have shown indoor tanning is linked to more skin cancers than cigarettes to lung cancers. Personally, I’ve never seen more skin cancer cases, particularly in 20-something patients, and many have used tanning salons−just like the one at the strip mall near you.

5 false assumptions about indoor tanning

  • UV light from tanning beds is safer than UV light from the sun
  • Tanning oil acts as a barrier from the UV rays in the bed
  • You can only get skin cancer if you get a bad sunburn
  • Tanning beds give you vitamin D which you can’t get in the winter
  • A good tan boosts your mood and makes you happier

A local young woman unexpectedly faces melanoma cancer

Recently, a 22-year-old Monmouth County woman noticed dark growths on her ear and chest. While these lesions were normal, during a subsequent full-body skin evaluation, I discovered early invasive melanoma on her buttock. She used a tanning bed 75 percent of the time (without clothing) because she worked during the day and didn’t want to risk a ‘weekend sunburn.’

One of her parents had passed away at a young age from melanoma which compelled her to see me. After I confirmed the Stage 1 melanoma, she immediately needed to undergo surgical removal of the tumor. While she will need careful monitoring and cancer screening for the rest of her life, her prognosis is excellent since the cancer was detected early and had not spread to her lymph nodes.

Is spray tanning a safe alternative?

Spray tans are far safer than indoor or outdoor UV ray exposure, but you need to use caution as well. The concern stems from use of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) in tanning solutions, which interacts with dead cells on the skin’s surface to darken skin. Inhalation and ingestion of this chemical is not advisable so I recommend the use of tanning wipes over sprays and avoiding the mucous membranes in the mouth, eyes and nose.

Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. If you spent your childhood and teens frequently exposed to indoor or outdoor UV rays, see a dermatologist for a thorough screening every year, even if you are in your early 20s. Be candid with the doctor about your degree of exposure over the years. Armed with these facts, the physician can offer the best defense for keeping you safe and cancer free.

dermatologist freehold njJason H. Miller, MD is a board-certified dermatologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. He can be reached at Schweiger Dermatology Group by calling (732) 653-1797 or visiting

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