How Do Tanning Beds Work?

girl employee in a solarium with customer
Tanning booths are not a safe way to get color. (Image: LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images)

Tanning beds use an ultraviolet light bulb to create UV radiation, which tans the skin just like UV light from the sun. Exposure to UV radiation can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. The light from a tanning bed is particularly dangerous. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that people who visit tanning booths are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who do not tan indoors.

How You Tan

The UV radiation from the sun and indoor tanning lights that creates your "glow" is a type called UVA. These rays stimulate melanocytes, cells in the lower skin layers, to produce melanin, a brownish pigment. Increased melanin protects your body from burning, so it serves as your body's protection against exposure to UV light. UVA light penetrates deep into the skin -- below the protective layer known as the epidermis, though. When the light hits the dermis, it also reaches blood vessels and nerves -- which can compromise your immune system and leave you vulnerable to melanoma. The UVA light also causes premature aging.

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