The shorter days of winter may tempt you to wander into an indoor tanning salon, but that’s probably not wise. A recent study found that skin burns, passing out, and eye injuries were among the most common injuries from indoor tanning treated in U.S. emergency rooms. The study reported that there were more than 3,200 indoor tanning-related injuries treated each year between 2003 and 2012.

That golden bronze skin tone? Opt against it. The reason for the injuries is mostly the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes skin cancer. However, not much is known about the more immediate side effects of indoor tanning. The new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, takes a closer look at indoor tanning-related injuries.

Learn More About Tanning Beds and Skin Cancer Risk »

Eighty-two percent of the injuries occurred in females. Nearly 78 percent of the injuries occurred in non-Hispanic whites. More than three-quarters of the reported injuries were skin burns. Fainting or passing out made up 9.5 percent of the injuries. Almost 6 percent were eye injuries.


Most of the patients treated in the emergency room for tanning-related injuries didn’t need hospitalization. But burns serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room “clearly indicated overexposure to UV radiation and increase skin cancer risk,” the study authors note.

What’s more, tanning salons don’t seem to be very trustworthy. Another study of tanning salons in North Carolina reported that only 5 percent complied with the Food and Drug Administration guidelines about limiting exposure to UV radiation. That means 95 percent didn’t.

There is good news, however. Indoor tanning-related injuries decreased significantly between 2003 and 2012. They dropped from 6,487 per year to 1,957.

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While this study looked at indoor tanning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants the public to know that both indoor and outdoor tanning are dangerous. The agency is also hoping to bust a few tanning myths. Indoor tanning is not a safe way to get vitamin D. It is not safer than tanning outside in the sun, and a base tan is in no way a “safe tan.” A tan is the skin’s way of responding to an injury from UV rays.

Skin cancer, and in particular melanoma, are both more likely following tanning. Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. Many different studies have shown an association between indoor tanning and melanoma, including the fact that newer tanning beds are not necessarily safer than older models.

A study cited by the CDC estimated that more than 400,000 annual cases of skin cancer may be related to indoor tanning. That breaks down to 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas, and 6,000 melanomas. 

Tanning can cause other harm in addition to increasing the risk of skin cancer. According to the CDC, it can:

  • cause premature skin aging
  • cause changes in skin texture
  • increase the risk of potentially blinding eye diseases

Learn More: Young People Ignore Skin Cancer Risk at Their Peril »