Tanning beds are often used for cosmetic purposes, especially among adolescents and young adults. They emit ultraviolet rays, called UV rays. UVA and UVB are both dangerous rays that affect the deep and top layers of the skin, respectively. When the skin is exposed to these UV rays, melanocyte cells produce melanin, a brown pigment that darkens the skin. This is how the skin attempt to protect itself from further damage. Excessive exposure can lead to problems such as skin and eye cancer, and tanning beds are considered unsafe by organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Dermatology.
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When skin is exposed to UV rays, enzymes are triggered to repair the damage. However, not all enzymes repair skin damage; instead, some of them mutate and increase the risk of skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma, basil cell carcinoma and melanoma. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, just one severe sunburn during childhood, or a total of five sunburns in a lifetime, more than doubles the chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Younger people are most at risk for this complication. In fact, use of a tanning bed before age 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.
UV rays affect not only the skin, but the eyes as well. Eye cancer, also known as ocular melanoma, is a potential consequence of excessive UV ray exposure. Some eye conditions that can develop from the use of tanning beds are treatable, such as photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis, inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva. However, chronic eye problems can also develop. This includes cataracts, an eye disease that causes impaired vision, and pterygium, a flesh-like growth on the eye’s surface. Tumors can develop on the surface of the eye as well.
Tans and sunburns cause photoaging, a term that refers to premature aging of the skin due to exposure to UV radiation. Skin typically develops a texture similar to leather and wrinkles; sagging skin and sun spots can develop. UVA rays, which affect the deeper layers of skin, are responsible for this negative effect.
Tanning beds that are not sufficiently cleaned and disinfected between uses can result in the spread of diseases such as staph infections and some sexually transmitted diseases. Excessive exposure to UV rays can also affect the immune system, making the body vulnerable to disease. Because many effects of using tanning beds are not immediately visible, such as cancers, chronic eye problems and photoaging, individuals place themselves even more at risk by continuing to use the beds in the absence of any ill effects. Because tanning beds can be used at the same intensity every day, unlike the sun’s intensity that varies throughout the year, UV rays from tanning beds are more dangerous than natural sun exposure. In fact, tanning beds emit three times more UV rays than the sun.