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Are there any benefits to indoor tanning?
Professional indoor tanning salons understand that it is inappropriate to make direct health claims about indoor tanning or to suggest there are no risks associated with UV exposure from any source. But regardless of what a facility can say about its services, surveys show many indoor tanners utilize tanning for more than just the cosmetic tan.
Tanning: Nature’s Sunscreen
One reason so many people enjoy the professional indoor tanning experience is that trained operators can give a tanner controlled UV exposures to gradually develop natural sunscreen – often called a "base tan" – while minimizing the risk of sunburn. The tanning process actually creates two different forms of natural protection against sunburn:
Melanin pigment produced when UV light meets the skin literally enshrouds and shields skin cells in the skin’s epidermis, protecting each cell from getting too much UV exposure. Melanin is a powerful anti-oxidant, helping the skin naturally eliminate free-radicals that can cause damage.
As the skin tans, the outer layer thickens (a natural process called acanthosis) which is nature’s design to make the skin naturally more resistant to sunburn.
The value of a base tan, as any indoor tanner knows, is that it adds another layer to your sun protection arsenal – making sunscreen worn outdoors for outings on sunny days even more effective. Here’s how that works:
A typical new client begins tanning with 5-minute sessions, gradually develops a tan and can work her/his way up to 20-minute sessions. At this point, she/he becomes naturally FOUR TIMES more resilient to sunburn than when she/he first started tanning. (5 minutes x 4 = 20 minutes). So that tan has an SPF 4 value.
When someone with a base tan uses sunscreen outdoors, they essentially multiply the effectiveness of the sunscreen. In other words, an SPF 15 product applied to the skin of a person whose base tan has already made her four times more resilient to sunburn creates a net SPF of 60. (SPF 15 x 4 = SPF 60).
In sunny environments many fair-skinned people can sunburn during normal outdoor activities even while wearing sunscreen. But with a base tan their sunscreen becomes more effective and they are much less likely to sunburn.
Casual Self-Treatment of Cosmetic Skin Conditions
Millions of indoor tanning customers frequent U.S. indoor tanning salons for their own self-treatment of cosmetic skin conditions and other non-cosmetic tanning reasons - physiologic benefits that can occur when one follows the cosmetic regimen at a tanning facility. According to a 2010 Smart Tan survey:
More than three million consumers frequent tanning salons for self-treatment of psoriasis, eczema, acne, vitiligo, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and to increase vitamin D levels.
Approximately one million indoor tanners said they were referred to tanning facilities by their dermatologist.
Could Indoor Tanning Be a Surrogate for What Nature Intended?
Vitamin D production is one of the benefits that has been associated with human exposure to ultraviolet-B (UVB) emitted in sunlight and by an estimated 90 percent of commercial indoor tanning equipment. While the North American indoor tanning industry conducts indoor tanning as a cosmetic service, an undeniable physiological side effect of this service is that indoor tanning clients manufacture sufficient levels of vitamin D as a result of indoor tanning sessions.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced naturally when skin is exposed to UVB in sunlight or indoor tanning units. Scientists through thousands of studies now recommend vitamin D blood levels of 40-60 ng/ml. Only those who get regular UV exposure have those levels naturally:
Vitamin D sufficiency is linked to a reduction in 105 diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and most forms of cancer. It is believed that vitamin D deficiency contributes to nearly 400,000 premature deaths and adds a $100 billion burden to our health care system.
77 percent of Americans are considered vitamin D deficient according to government data and overzealous sun avoidance is the only plausible explanation for the 50 percent increase in that figure in the past 15 years.
The indoor tanning industry believes that, for those individuals who can develop tans, the cosmetic and vitamin D-related benefits of non-burning exposure to ultraviolet light in appropriate moderation outweigh the easily manageable risks associated with overexposure and sunburn. Many doctors agree: "I believe the health benefits of exposure to UVA and UVB rays greatly outweigh the disadvantages, even if that means using a sunbed during winter months." -British Oncologist Dr. Tim Oliver
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