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UV Tanning Equipment

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This page discusses the potential dangers due to radiation from using tanning equipment.

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Overview

Tanning occurs when the skin produces additional pigment (coloring) to protect itself against burns from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Overexposure to these rays can cause eye injury, premature wrinkling of the skin, light-induced skin rashes, and can increase your chances of developing skin cancer.

Life on Earth is protected from UV rays by the ozone layer, which forms a thin shield high in the atmosphere. In the 1980s, scientists began finding clues that the ozone layer was going away or being depleted. This allows more UV radiation to reach the Earth's surface. This can cause people to have a greater chance of getting too much UV radiation.

We talk about UV radiation in terms of its wavelength, the distance between two successive peaks of a wave. UV wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm) or one billionth of a meter. The shorter the wavelength the higher the energy. UV is divided into three bands by wavelength:

Most sun lamps and tanning equipment emit ultraviolet radiation. This equipment mainly produces UVA radiation, sometimes known as “tanning rays.” While UVA radiation from artificial-tanning equipment is less likely to cause sunburn than UVB radiation from sunlight, that does not make UVA radiation safe. UVA rays have a suspected link to malignant melanoma, and, like UVB rays, they also may be linked to immune system damage.

Long-term exposure to natural or artificial sources of ultraviolet rays increases the risk of developing skin cancer. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer. In addition, exposure to ultraviolet light actually thins the skin, making it less able to heal and increasing the damage caused by sunlight.

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Who is protecting you

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

FDA is in charge of regulations that deal with labels on tanning devices, including tanning equipment, labels and protective eyewear. The labels are meant to inform consumers of the appropriate use and potential dangers of using such tanning equipment. If tanning equipment is being used inappropriately, FDA also can remove tanning equipment from that location.

U.S. Federal Trade Commission  (FTC)

FTC investigates false, misleading, and deceptive advertising claims about the devices. When the FTC determines that advertisements are not truthful, they may take corrective action.

The States

States regulate the tanning salon businesses and also have the authority to issue operation licenses for tanning devices, mandate periodic facility inspections, and train tanning salon owners and employees.

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What you can do to protect yourself

You can prevent your exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays by avoiding tanning beds and booths. Instead of using tanning beds at tanning salon, try tanning sprays. In fact, some salons now provide only tanning spray services.

If using tanning equipment, always use protective eyewear that provides 100% UV ray protection.

Regardless of your exposure to natural or artificial UV rays, conduct a monthly skin self-exam looking for any abnormalities (like bumps or sores that don't heal) or moles that have changed size, color or shape. Be sure to check all areas. Have a friend or family member check your back. Visit your physician or a dermatologist to get annual exams. If caught early, most cases of skin cancer can be cured.

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Resources

What is the UV Index?
February 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SunWise Program
On this page, you can read about the UV index and UV alert and steps to protect yourself.
Tanning Facilities exit EPA
February 2012. Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Community Environmental Health
This page provides information on issues associated with tanning facilities, including those with spray-on tanning and links to other sources of information about tanning.
NCI Health Information Tip Sheet for Writers: Artificial Tanning Booths and Cancer
February 2012. U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute
On the fact sheet, you can read about the link between tanning and skin cancer. It contains stories about people who made different tanning choices.
Global Solar UV Index: A Practical Guide (PDF) (18pp, 429Kb)[about pdf format] exit EPA
February 2012. Joint recommendation of World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, Internal Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection,  
This guide details global solar UV index issues, sun protection messages, and educational concepts.
Survey Shows Dangers of Tanning Not Hitting Home.
February 2012. Women’s Health.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health. Here you can read about a survey of young women about tanning. You can also read about the rise in skin cancer among people using tanning beds.

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