Support us with Kachingle!
March 10, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Doctors warn against soaking up the sun — especially if it shines out of tanning bed bulbs. But local tanning salons fight back with the promise of health benefits: baby-soft skin, extra sun protection and more vitamin D. The positive results sound promising, but when dermatologists express doubts, the result is a battle of brains versus bronze. Look out, Jersey Shore — we have a situation.
Tanning salon owners and dermatologists all agree that vitamin D is essential for good health, but after that their opinions diverge.
“There are not many foods out there that provide the amount of vitamin D that we need in our bodies,” Tan Rio manager Anne Osborne says. However, the UVB rays in lower-level tanning beds help.
Key Largo Fitness and Tanning owner Melanie Karrick estimates that 90 percent of commercial indoor tanning beds emit some UVB rays. But dermatologist John DeSpain says tanning beds emit mostly UVA light, and the UVB rays in tanning beds don’t produce sufficient vitamin D to be considered healthful for the body.
Dermatologist Luke Welch of Columbia Dermatology says, “I don’t send anybody to tanning beds to get their vitamin D.” Instead, he considers incidental sun exposure and dietary supplements to be better sources.
Customers who want the ultimate beach bod might opt for the Pacific Beach Tanning and Skin Rejuvenation Beauty Angel bed. Manager Rachel Lueken says the stand-up booth bathes customers in red light to stimulate collagen and elastin production. Dermatologists have proven that red light helps with fine lines and wrinkles and improves the texture of the skin, she says.
Angel bedgoers won’t get a tan, but they’ll experience some good vibrations: The booth’s vibrating platform creates “the ultimate skin- and muscle-toning environment,” according to the Pacific Beach website, pacificbeachtan.com. Four programs determine the strength of the vibrations to relax muscles, promote fitness and reduce the appearance of cellulite.
But the docs are skeptical. If the Beauty Angel lived up to its claims, then the Food and Drug Administration would restrict its use to medical settings, DeSpain says. “When things are classified as actually changing tissue, they tend to be regulated as such,” he says, but he stops short of discouraging red light therapy use. “At least it won’t hurt you like a tanning bed can,” Welch says. “It’s got that in its favor, anyway.”
Osborne says many of her customers hit the beds to avoid outdoor sunburns.
Because tanning beds are supposed to darken rather than redden the skin, indoor tanning enables customers to follow the “Golden Rule of smart tanning: never sunburn,” according to the Key Largo website.
However, DeSpain says sunburns are only one expression of skin damage, and suntans are another. Ultraviolet exposure from tanning beds causes DNA mutations that can lead to cancer, both DeSpain and Welch say. “You’re doing plenty of damage without burning,” Welch says. DeSpain says the bottom line is that there’s no such thing as a safe tan.
Get a tan, and skip the Coppertone: A base tan multiplies the effectiveness of sunscreen, Karrick of Key Largo says.
“Being tan, whether indoors or outdoors, is nature’s sunscreen,” she says. “When you have a proper base tan, it actually has an SPF 4 value.” When people with a base tan apply an SPF 15 sunscreen, Karrick says their protection is equivalent to SPF 60, which means the tanner could be in the sun 60 times longer.
“This is misuse of scientific principles,” DeSpain says. The process that determines SPF is intended for chemical sunblocks, not suntans. “That’s like trying to apply the rules of baseball to a football game,” he says.
“It’s very confusing because then we have patients who seek information, and how do they know the truth from baloney?” DeSpain says.