Dangers And Health Risks Of Tanning

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

The look of tan skin is a trend that hardly ever falls out of fashion. Because of this, people spend hours at the tanning salon or basking in the sun to get that darkened glow. But there are serious health risks associated with tanning; whether you’re doing it indoors or outdoors.

UV Radiation

UV (ultra violet) radiation is what makes your skin tan, but it also causes health problems in the short and long term. When your skin is exposed to UV rays for a prolonged period of time, the skin produces melanin, which is a pigment that colors your hair, skin and eyes. Producing melanin is the skin’s way of protecting itself and is what causes your skin to look tan.

UV radiation comes naturally from the sun but you can also be exposed to UV rays through the lamps in tanning beds. There are three types of UV rays:

  • UVA
  • UVB
  • UVC

UVA rays are the most dangerous because they are the longest and, therefore, can penetrate the skin. UVB and UVC rays are shorter and only reach the outer layer of skin.

In small amounts, UV rays can actually be beneficial to your health as they help the body produce vitamin D. But in large quantities, UV rays can have a harmful effect on your health.

Dangers And Health Risks Of Tanning

1. Sunburn

In the short term, UV exposure can cause sunburn. Sunburns are painful and will usually cause your skin to peel off. The skin will also appear to be flushed, will be tender to the touch and will emanate heat. Severe sunburns require medical attention and will cause blisters, a headache, a fever and the chills.

Although sunburns only last for a short time, that doesn’t mean they won’t have a long-term effect on your skin. Studies have linked severe sunburns to the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma.

2. Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most serious health risks associated with UV exposure from tanning. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are three main types of skin cancer:

  • Melanoma – This is the most serious form of skin cancer.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – This type of skin cancer is less severe than melanoma and is less likely to cause death.
  • Basal cell carcinoma – This type of skin cancer is slow to develop and occurs most often in the elderly.

UV radiation can also cause the development of solar keratosis, which can turn into skin cancer. The typical symptoms of skin cancer include dark spots that itch, bleed, ooze and are painful. Red or blue lesions with irregular borders may also indicate skin cancer. The treatment for skin cancer varies, depending on the type of cancer and the severity, but can include surgery, laser therapy and even chemotherapy. Although skin cancer can occur in anyone, it most commonly develops in people with fair skin.

3. Eye Problems

Skin problems aren’t the only health risks associated with tanning. Your eyes are also at risk if you don’t protect them in the proper manner. Exposure to UV rays can lead to a condition called photokeratitis, which can affect your ability to see and can cause pain and swelling of the eyes. Too much UV exposure can also cause the formation of cataracts, macular degeneration or even cancer around the eyes.

4. Suppressed Immune System

UV radiation can also suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to adverse reactions from medication. This will also decrease the effectiveness of immunizations and will make it harder for your body to keep infections and viruses under control.

(To learn more about things that weaken the immune system, read 10 Bad Habits That Weaken The Immune System.)

5. Premature Aging

While tanning may make you look good now, it probably won’t in the long-run. That’s because UV exposure causes premature ageing. UV rays break down the collagen and elastin in the skin, which leads to the development of wrinkles, leathery skin and dark spots.


Although UV overexposure is dangerous, that does not mean you shouldn’t get a limited amount of exposure. If you choose to tan, take these preventative measures:

  • If you’re going in the sun, wear sunblock with an SPF of at least 15. Wear a hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts for maximum protection.
  • The sun’s rays are harshest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so work on your tan early in the morning or in the late afternoon.
  • If you’re tanning at a salon, make sure you wear goggles to protect your eyes and don’t use the maximum exposure setting.
  • Stick to the time limit and don’t tan more than once a week.
  • Use safer, self-tanning methods. (For information on self-tanning, read Safe Self-Tanning Tips For A Summer Look.)

If you have fair skin, take certain medications or use certain cosmetics, you may be more sensitive to UV rays. Additionally, people over the age of 50 and under the age of 5 are more susceptible to the health risks of UV exposure.


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