Why Tanning Beds are More Damaging than the Sun

As the cancer-causing and photo-damaging effects of sunlight become more widely understood, people are seeking alternative ways to get that sunkissed look without spending hours in the sun. However, there seems to be a false sense of security linked with tanning beds, as if they are somehow less damaging to your skin than natural sunlight. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Read on to find out what makes tanning beds so harmful to your skin and what you can do to get just the right amount of sun exposure.

UVA vs. UVB Rays

The reason tanning beds are so bad for your skin has to do with the inherent differences between UVA and UVB rays. The sun actually emits three different types of rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC, with UVA having the longest wavelengths and UVC having the shortest. Fortunately, UVC rays are so short that they are not able to pass through the earth’s atmosphere, so we can ignore them. Both UVA and UVB rays, on the other hand, penetrate the atmosphere, clouds, and human skin.

UVA rays were once thought to be less damaging to your skin than UVB rays, which have shorter wavelengths. This is why tanning beds use only UVA rays to tan your skin. That thinking was wrong.

In natural sunlight, UVA rays are less intense than UVB rays, but they are 30 to 50 percent more prevalent, making them equally hazardous when you’re outside (Skin Cancer Foundation). UVA radiation can reach the middle layer of skin, called the dermis, whereas UVB rays do not penetrate as deeply. Damage to the dermis can mean DNA damage that increases the risk for skin cancer, but it also prematurely ages the skin. UVA light does not produce any warning signs that your skin is being damaged, unlike UVB light, which causes a red, painful sunburn.

For these reasons, the harm caused by UVA radiation becomes apparent over a longer time frame. However, using indoor tanning beds, which emit only UVA light, can be even more detrimental to your skin and to your overall health than spending a few minutes outside in natural sunshine.

Summer Skincare Tips

The bottom line is that if you have to choose between going to a tanning bed or exposing your skin to natural sunlight, choose the sun every time. This does not mean that you can simply burn your skin every day and somehow avoid the long term damaging effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Seriously consider using a sunless tanning lotion to help you get a nice summer glow without sacrificing your health.

In the same vein, there is no such thing as getting a “base tan” to keep you protected from sun damage. In fact, the minute your skin tans or burns, it has already been damaged. This is why it’s so important to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 15 throughout the day, especially if you’re going to be outside during peak hours of daylight.

UVA rays are able to penetrate glass, so even if you are in your car or sitting inside by a window, your skin could still be at risk. Getting into the habit of putting on sunscreen everyday, at least on your face, arms and legs, is one of the best things you can do to maintain smooth, healthy, and younger-looking skin no matter your age.

If you’re having trouble finding a sunscreen that won’t cause a breakout, consider switching to a physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. Chemical sunscreen ingredients can sometimes contribute to acne. For specific recommendations about the best sunscreens and other skincare products for your unique skin type, visit

September 8, 2017 Beauty, News, Skincare