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  • Posted: 08/13/2004

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NCI Health Information Tip Sheet for Writers:
Artificial Tanning Booths and Cancer

Hollywood, Health & Society is a project at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communications, that in association with NCI, provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for health storylines.

To contact Hollywood, Health & Society, phone (800) 283-0676, or e-mail

TOPIC: Artificial Tanning Booths and Cancer


Long-term exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays like tanning beds (or to the sun's natural rays) increases both men and women's risk of developing skin cancer. In addition, exposure to tanning salon rays increases damage caused by sunlight because ultraviolet light actually thins the skin, making it less able to heal. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, more than one million people are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in the United States every year. In fact, non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. Forty to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have this form of skin cancer at least once. These are startling statistics for a cancer that can, for the most part, be prevented.


Almost everyone who frequents a tanning salon or exposes themselves to the sun is putting themselves at risk for skin cancer. The risk is greatest for people with fair skin; blonde, red, or light hair; and blue, green, or gray eyes. Artificial tanning can also be more dangerous for those who burn easily, have already been treated for skin cancer, or have a family member who has had skin cancer. In addition, women have a higher risk of contracting skin cancer on their legs, and men have a higher risk of getting it on their backs.


There are various things than one can do to prevent their exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet rays:

  • Avoid tanning beds and booths

  • Instead of going to a tanning salon, try tanning sprays. In fact, some salons now provide only tanning spray services.

  • 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 skin cancer is now almost 100 percent curable.


Long-term exposure to artificial (or natural) sources of ultraviolet rays increases one's risk of developing skin cancer. However there are alternatives one can take to minimize the risk associated with artificial rays such as using sunless tanning lotions or sprays in concert with regular skin checks by your physician or dermatologist.


Jake likes having a tan, but he tends to burn easily when he's in the sun or visits tanning beds and doesn't want to get skin cancer. Then a guy at his gym tells him about salons that offer spray-on tans. At the salon, he steps into a shower that covers him head to toe. In a few hours, he is evenly bronzed and no one could tell that it's not a natural tan.

Heather, now in her mid 20s, grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. She played golf and swam on her school's swim team. She no longer has as much time for her outdoor activities, and she misses the glow she used to get from being in the sun. So before big events, Heather visits the tanning salon to get some color. But the sun damage she got when she was younger, coupled with the damage from the tanning salons, results in skin cancer on her forehead. She has to undergo surgery to have the lesion removed and winds up with a noticeable scar. After that, Heather remembers to apply SPF 30 every morning and stays away from tanning salons.

Sherry grew up in Florida and is used to having a tan all year round. So, when she moves north, she has a tanning bed installed in her basement. But when she goes to get a mole checked, her dermatologist finds a couple of pre-cancerous skin spots on her left leg. He tells her that tanning beds are dangerous to her health. They not only increase risk of skin cancer but could cause eye injuries, premature wrinkling and skin rashes. Sherry sells her tanning bed and decides that getting her tan out of a bottle is a good alternative.


Cancer Information Service