What Your Local Tanning Salon is Telling You

Let us set the record straight on the science of tanning 

Credits: dorianrochowski at

With summer approaching, many people are trying to achieve a sun-kissed glow. The desire for golden skin has been sought out by many through the use of indoor tanning salons or spray tanning. However, indoor tanning can produce 10 to 15 times as much UV radiation of the sun and even just one session can increase your risk of developing melanoma by 20%.  With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, it is important to have knowledge of current tanning methods. Here’s a little insight on what your tanning salon is telling you:


“Build a Base Tan so You Won’t Burn on Vacation”

Your local tanning salon may believe that building a base tan protects from a sunburn and it has been suggested to many people that they come in before a vacation to build a base tan to protect their skin. However, this just leads to extra UV exposure before and after the vacation as people may use fewer sun protection precautions, believing that the tan will protect them.

It has been shown that this “pre-vacation” tan only offers photoprotection equivalent to an SPF 3 which provides only a little or no sun protection against DNA damage. This is also the same amount of photoprotection that a spray tan provides, so it is still essential to apply sunscreen even after a tan.


“Tanning Is a Good Way to Raise Vitamin D Levels”

Most of the UV light that reaches the earth is UVA and UVB. Vitamin D is synthesized in response to UVB. Most tanning devices primarily emit UVA light, which will not stimulate the production of vitamin D. It has been found that tanning devices that emit less than 1.5% UVB do lead to increases in vitamin D levels. However, this increases the UVB dose and can lead to side effects like redness and sunburns.


“Try a Spray Tan for a Sunless Tan”

Spray tans are actually a good alternative option to ultraviolet based tanning. There is a great amount of scientific evidence pointing to ultraviolet light as a major factor in causing skin damage and skin cancer. Many people are turning to sunless self-tanning products to avoid this skin damage. Your local salon most likely offers spray tans to get a similar glow. The active ingredient in sunless tanning products is Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is responsible for the brown color of the skin. DHA is absorbed in the layers of the skin, but not contained within the stratum corneum.

Although FDA has approved DHA as a color additive in cosmetics, studies have found that external application of DHA can produce oxidative stress on the skin. It was found that after 40 minutes of exposure to DHA on the skin, there was a pronounced amount of additional free radicals produced. In order to avoid some of the photoaging caused by spray tans, sun exposure should be avoided for at least 24 hours after the application of products containing DHA. 

It is important to seek healthy ways for a tan or to avoid the sun in general to prevent your chances of skin cancer. Current recommendations include avoiding the sun during peak hours of the day, wearing clothing that covers the skin, seeking shade when outdoors, and using and reapplying sunscreen with an SPF of 30. 


For further reading on tanning, skin and safe sun practices, click on the article links below:

The Science of Spray Tans

What You Should Know About Sunscreens, Clothing and Tanning

Vitamin D from the Sun Versus the Diet

The Broad Effects of Sunlight and Sun Exposure: Benefits and Dangers

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