How safe are tanning bed base-tans

By: Jessa Goddard
By: Jessa Goddard

KNOXVILLE (WVLT) – It may still be cold out, but it’s almost time for spring break.

The University of Tennessee, for example, breaks for spring on March 14th.

It’s a time when many college students head for destinations south, and before they hit the beach, many hit the tanning bed for a "base tan."

"Spring break is so early around here, and typically people have had no sun since last summer, and come in and get a base tan before they go into the sun," said Jodi Welch, manager of Yucatan Sun Spa.

According to Welch, Yucatan offers a variety of tanning bed models, allowing customers to choose the level of exposure to ultraviolet rays.

"The beds actually have cobalt filters that filter out the UVB rays,” she said, “which are the burning rays of the sun, so it's actually a safer alternative."

But doctors disagree with how safe tanning beds really are.

“With the tanning rays, the UVA and UVB rays, it's impossible to really filter out the damaging ray,” said Dr. Matthew Doppelt from Southeastern Dermatology Consultants, “so I think that's a little bit misleading."

According to the dermatologist, a base tan does not provide you the protection you probably think it does.

"We like to talk about the myth of the base tan when we talk about tanning beds,” said Dr. Doppelt. “The reason is that really a tanning bed, when you go and get a tan there, it's going to give you an SPF of about three to five."

Think of it like this, when you go to the drug store to buy a bottle of sunscreen, you're likely to buy one with a SPF of at least 15, not three or five, so that should be weighed against the ultraviolet rays you're exposing yourself to.

Dermatologists and the tanning industry have long been at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to tanning bed safety.

One alternative is the tanning booth, or spray on tan that provides color without the safety issues.

Both sides do agree that indoor tanning is very popular.

On an average day, more than a million Americans patronize the nation's 50,000 tanning salons, totaling more than 28 million indoor tanning clients each year in the US alone.


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