Tanning Beds, Vitamin D, and Skin Cancer

Here are some studies addressing the question of whether tanning beds are a safe and reliable source of vitamin D.

A 2004 study found that tanners had much higher levels of vitamin D (and lower rates of vitamin D deficiency) than non-tanning bed users. They noted that to produce vitamin D, the tanning bed must emit ultraviolet B rays of 290–315 nm. This study did not indicate that they screened subjects based on the UV ray type of the tanning bed they used. A link to entire study is below (1). This study was confounded by the fact that the tanners stayed out in the sun significantly longer than non-tanners (2).

In their 2010 paper, Woo and Eide state that most tanning “devices” emit ultraviolet A rays, which do not produce much vitamin D (2). They say:

“Given the relative inefficiency of UVA-emitting tanning devices in increasing serum vitamin D levels, especially in those most at risk of vitamin D deficiency, indoor tanning is not recommendable as a way to achieve optimal vitamin D levels in the general public.”

The authors also argue that for tanning to occur, DNA damage must also occur. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says, “There is no scientifically validated, safe threshold level of UV exposure from the sun or indoor tanning devices that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk (3).” The AAD recommends against using even sunlight to raise vitamin D levels.

In summary, it appears that you can get vitamin D from tanning beds if you make sure the bed uses UV B rays of 290–315 nm, but doing so can raise the risk of skin cancer.

References

1. Tangpricha V, Turner A, Spina C, Decastro S, Chen TC, Holick MF. Tanning is associated with optimal vitamin D status (serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration) and higher bone mineral density. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6):1645-9.

2. Woo DK, Eide MJ. Tanning beds, skin cancer, and vitamin D: An examination of the scientific evidence and public health implications. Dermatol Ther. 2010 Jan;23(1):61-71.

3. The American Academy of Dermatology. Position Statement on Vitamin D. Amended by the Board of Directors December 22, 2010. Link

Also Reviewed:

Schulman JM, Fisher DE. Indoor ultraviolet tanning and skin cancer: health risks and opportunities. Curr Opin Oncol. 2009 Mar;21(2):144-9.

3 Responses to “Tanning Beds, Vitamin D, and Skin Cancer”

  1. beforewisdom Says:

    I’m guessing the data doesn’t exist yet, but it would be interesting to know if the sun lamps specifically made for SAD sufferers cause cancer or make vitamin D

    People who like to get tans prematurely age their skin.

    Though if all someone wants is vitamin D and to get undepressed, I guess they could just turn around and point their sunlamp on their back ,instead of on their face. Probably a good move for giving extra protection to their eyes as well.

  2. vuzman Says:

    To avoid premature aging of the skin, which is primarily a concern for the face, apply sunblock to the face before tanning. The difference in amount of Vitamin D produced by minimizing exposure of the face will be negligible since the face is such a small percentage of the total skin area.

  3. beforewisdom Says:

    Good point.

    If I ever need to do anything like this I would probally also sit with my back to the lamp just to give my eyes extra protection beyond the goggles.

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