What’s more dangerous, tanning sprays or tanning beds?

Spectrum Medical Group

We all know that tanning beds are not good for us, but what about tanning sprays? Do they pose a risk? When someone posed the question, I asked Dr. Katy Linskey. She’s a pathologist and Director of Dermatopathology at Maine Medical Center. Here’s her answer:

What’s more dangerous, tanning sprays or tanning beds?

Tanning beds

Tanning beds are devices that emit ultraviolet radiation (UV) in order to produce a tan. UV rays are considered a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Other scientific agencies and studies have found a significant increase in the risk of skin cancer as a result of UV exposure.

For example, there is an increased risk of melanoma of up to 75% and of early onset basal cell carcinoma of 69%, specifically in indoor tanners. UV exposure also leads to premature aging of the skin (“photoaging”), which can take the form of wrinkles and dark spots.

The World Health Organization recommends against tanning bed use and it is considered so dangerous that organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that indoor tanning be banned by law for children under 18 years old.

Tanning sprays

Tanning sprays (topical self-tanners, temporary bronzers) are considered a safe alternative to tanning beds for individuals who would like a tan without suffering the negative consequences of UV ray exposure. These are water-soluble darkening agents which are applied directly to the skin, with the effect lasting from one to several days.

The longer lasting products usually contain a substance called dihydroxyacetone, which is approved for external use by the Food and Drug Administration. One important thing to note about tanning sprays is that they do not provide UV protection unless combined with sunscreen, so it’s important to avoid sun exposure or use some sort of photoprotection.

For some broad spectrum advice about protecting your skin against UV radiation, read this Catching Health post.

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.