Sunbeds and Skin Cancer

Approximately 1 in 3 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Alberta in 2014 will be skin cancer. And, there is sufficient evidence that UVR exposure through indoor tanning equipment has been linked to all forms of skin cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has placed UV tanning beds into its highest cancer risk category, “carcinogenic to humans,” thereby ranking them equal to well-known carcinogens like asbestos and tobacco.

The good news is, indoor tanning is an entirely preventable risk factor for skin cancer. The bad news is, young people are still doing it anyways.

Myths vs. Facts

Before you roll your eyes and think “tanning is not a big deal”, you should get the real facts from real sources. For instance: Use of tanning equipment before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 59%.1 Here are some things you should know before you decide to use a tanning bed.

The Ugly Truth

Tanning beds are NOT a safe way to get your vitamin D. Why increase your risk of skin cancer when taking a vitamin D supplement is safer and cheaper?

Myth #1

Artificial tanning is a great way to get vitamin D.

The Ugly Truth

Artificial tanning is more dangerous than the sun. Some tanning beds emit 10-15 times more UVA radiation than the midday sun.7 That means eight minutes in a bed is like 1-2 hours on a beach—without sunscreen.

Myth #2

Artificial tanning is safer because it's in a controlled environment.

The Ugly Truth

Tanning can cause a release of endorphins in your brain—the same reaction that heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine trigger.6 That's why what starts as a one-time thing can turn into an all-the-time thing.

Myth #3

Tanning is healthy and safe in moderation.

The Ugly Truth

It has been estimated that an indoor tan offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of only 2 – 4,2, 3 while an SPF of 30 is the minimum sunscreen recommended. Plus, a base tan is created only at the expense of further skin damage, some of which will be permanent and additive damage to DNA.

Myth #4

A base tan is adequate protection from getting burned.

View References

  • 1 Boniol M., Autier P., Boyle P., Gandini S. (2012) Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 345. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e456556
  • 2 European Commission, Health and Consumer Protection Directorate‐General, Scientific Committee on Consumer Products, Opinion on Biological Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation Relevant to Health with Particular Reference to Sunbeds for Cosmetic Purposes (2006), 6.
  • 3 Agar N, & Young AR. 2005. Melanogenesis: a photoprotective response to DNA damage? Mutation Research. 571(1-2):121-32.
  • 4 Report Of The Indoor Tanning Working Group (ITWG). 2011.
  • 5 Sheehan, J. M., Potten, C. S. and Young, A. R. (1998), Tanning in Human Skin Types II and III Offers Modest Photoprotection Against Erythema. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 68: 588–592.
  • 6 Harrington, C.R., Beswick, T.C., Leitenberger, J., Minhajuddin, A., Jacobe H.T., Adinoff, B. Addictive-like behaviours to ultraviolet light among frequent indoor tanners. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. 2010 (36):33-38
  • 7 Gerber B, Mathys P, Moser M, et al. (2002). Ultraviolet emission spectra of sunbeds. Photochem Photobiol, 76:664–668.

Alberta Legislation

On March 25, 2015, Alberta's Skin Cancer Prevention Act passed third reading. Once enacted, businesses in Alberta will be banned from selling or providing artificial tanning services to minors. Further, the Act prohibits advertising of artificial tanning directed to minors, mandates health warnings in artificial tanning facilities and on advertising materials, and prohibits unsupervised self-service artificial tanning equipment in public places. This legislation is a key component of Alberta's efforts to reduce the risk of skin cancer in our province. Together with continued education, the opportunity to prevent skin cancer is real. Parents, talk to your kids today. By having this talk while your kids are young, you can influence the decisions they make when they become adults.

Areas where indoor tanning has already been banned for youth under 18

Legislation Worldwide: Elsewhere in Canada, indoor tanning legislation is also in place in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories. Worldwide, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Scotland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and 12 US states have also followed suit. In fact, Brazil and Australia have banned tanning for all ages!19

View References

  • **California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinios, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Washington. A further 12 states have banned youth under 14, 16 or 17
  • 19 World Health Organization Website (2009). Retrieved Friday March 16, 2012 from:
  • 20 Canadian Cancer Society. 2008. “Canadian Cancer Society calls for regulation of artificial tanning industry in Ontario — Study confirms need for provincial legislation.” Retrieved November 4th 2011 from:

Youth and Tanning

In Alberta, a 2012 study found that over 30% of 17 year-old girls have used indoor tanning.10 This is a statistic that’s particularly alarming because younger skin is more susceptible to UV damage.11

  • 18% of youth 15-17 years old have used an indoor tanning bed at least once in their lifetime.
  • 33% of 17 year old girls have visited a tanning salon.
  • Within the last year, 14% of youth have used tanning equipment.
  • Youth are being introduced to indoor tanning at a younger age than previously thought. Of those who have used a tanning bed, nearly two-thirds had first used indoor tanning by age 15.
  • Among Albertans 18-65 years of age, nearly half (47%) have used indoor tanning at some point and 19% have used it in the past year.
  • Usage is highest amongst younger women, although it is higher among men than originally anticipated. According to recent estimates, about 20% of women and 16.5% of men have tanned indoors in the past year.

View References

  • 10 Alberta Health Services (2012). Youth Indoor Tanning Survey Alberta (YITSA): Full Report. Calgary, Alberta: Alberta Health Services.
  • 11 Autier P. Perspectives in melanoma prevention: the case of sunbeds. Eur J Cancer. 2004;40(16):2367–2376

"It Won't Happen To Me" Syndrome

Most studies find an increased risk of melanoma associated with the use of indoor tanning beds, and there is some evidence of a dose-response relationship.1,2,3,4 The risk is consistently higher among those who started using sunbeds at an earlier age,1,2 and for a longer time.1

While many teens are aware of the effects of overexposure to UV rays, they don’t see their trip to the tanning salon before graduation or vacation as dangerous. But, every trip adds up—any more than 10 tanning sessions can double the risk of Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer.12

View References

  • 1 Veierod MB, Adami HO, Lund E, Armstrong BK, Weiderpass E. Sun and solarium exposure and melanoma risk: effects of age, pigmentary characteristics, and nevi. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2010;19(1):111-20.
  • 2 El Ghissassi F, Baan R, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan B, Bouvard V, et al. A review of human carcinogens--part D: radiation. Lancet Oncol 2009;10(8):751-2.
  • 3 International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group on artificial ultraviolet l, skin c. The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: A systematic review. Int J Cancer 2007;120(5):1116-22.
  • 4 Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012;345:e4757.
  • 12 Cust, A. E., Armstrong, B. K., Goumas, C., Jenkins, M. A., Schmid, H., Hopper, J. L., Kefford, R. F., Giles, G. G., Aitken, J. F. and Mann, G. J. (2011), Sunbed use during adolescence and early adulthood is associated with increased risk of early-onset melanoma. International Journal of Cancer, 128: 2425–2435.