Q: How bad can tanning beds really be? Everyone uses them.
A: Tanning beds use fluorescent lights to produce UV radiation—95 percent of which is UVA, the worst kind for inducing skin cancer. UVA is linked directly to melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma likes to invade, going far beyond “skin deep,” and it can kill you. Today’s young people have a higher risk for melanoma than prior generations, due to changes in the ozone layer. By tanning indoors or tanning outside without protection, you magnify the risk exponentially
Sunless alternatives are safer. Products that contain dihydroxyacetone, a compound that reacts with the top layer of your skin (called the stratum corneum), begin to darken your skin within an hour of application, peak in eight to 24 hours, and fade over five to seven days. These products can be self-applied or sprayed on at a tanning salon (the latter allows for more even distribution). You should first test a product in an inconspicuous spot, like the back of your wrist or your inner arm, to make sure it doesn’t make your skin look orangey. And never use it on your lips or get it near your eyes.
Michael F. Roizen, MD, is Professor of Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology, Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He has co-founded 12 companies, including the popular websites RealAge.com and YOUBeauty.com.
Mehmet C. Oz, MD, is Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His TV show—The Dr. Oz Show— recently won its third Emmy, with Dr. Oz his second as the best daytime talk show host.