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Are Tanning Beds Safe?

May 12, 2001 | 37,451 views

Many patients ask me this question and I thought many people would benefit from my writing down my thought on the matter.

The practical reality is that most commercial tanning beds are accidents waiting to happen.

There are two problems with them relating to two different types of radiation.

The first one is X-rays which are emitted by the ends of both bulbs. This occurs with any fluorescent bulb. The X-rays can be shielded with a piece of lead tape wrapped around the last inch of the bulb.

The second is EMF emitted by the magnetic ballast used for most all of the tanning beds. It is these magnetic ballasts that give the tanning bed the hum that you hear.

The EMF decreases by one over the square root of the distance from the bulb. In simpler terms, it drops off very rapidly the further you are away from the ballast, but in a tanning bed, one is only several inches away from the magnetic ballast.

This problem also has a solution, in that one can remove the magnetic ballast and replace it with a very quiet and much more efficient electronic ballast. Nearly any handy electrical person can install the replacement and most electrical supply stores carry them.

So one can actually construct a "safe" tanning bed. Ideally, it should have these characteristics:

  • Electronic ballasts – These eliminate a person's exposure to dangerous EMF radiation
  • Health-Enhancing Lights – Ensure that the tanning unit only emits lights that have beneficial effects to your health. Current tanning beds produce any one or a combination of these rays:
    • Ultraviolet Light supports your body's production of essential Vitamin D, a nutrient that helps boost your immune system from certain types of cancers. 
    • Infrared Light soothes your tired muscles. 
    • Red Light at 633 nm range renews the skin, giving you a younger look.

I also recommend that you use home tanning beds rather than those found in tanning salons. In this way, you can keep track of the sanitation of your own equipment. Thoroughly clean it on a regular basis to avoid contamination and the risk of causing possible skin infection from multiple users.

Depending on your preference, you can choose between a standup tanning system or a horizontal tanning bed. The standup type allows you to move more freely while standing. It also takes up less space, and in some models, can be mounted to your door or wall. The horizontal type, on the other hand, lets you lie down comfortably and relax on the bed during your tanning session. 

Once you use a tanning bed that meets these safety requirements, you stand to gain all these benefits:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cancer prevention
  • Skin health and repair 
  • Diabetes and osteoporosis prevention
  • Bone and muscle support

But if you decide that you don't want to use a tanning bed, then you can always go out in the sun. Remember that the sun is the best and simplest source of Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin that protects you from many types of diseases.

So, what are the options if you want to protect yourself prior to the summer sun or if you are going on a vacation?

The key is to moderate your initial exposure and never ever get sunburned. Don't ever fall asleep in the sun. Restrict your exposure to 10 to 15 minutes a day, carefully letting your skin turn the slightest shade of pink.

The sun's most intense rays are emitted one hour on either side of 12:00 (non-Daylight Savings Time). So stay out of the sun from 11 to 1 and increase your exposure gradually.

Just don't overdo it. Note that only a minimal dose of UV exposure is required to produce optimal levels of Vitamin D in your skin.

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