Sunday, July 6, 2014

What I have learned

After reading so many articles and hearing so many reports about how dangerous tanning is, I have decided to revisit what happens when a person goes to a tanning salon. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about what goes on. So let’s review what the process is, and go over a few other things I have learned since tanning, researching, and starting this blog.

First, a new client will fill out a survey to help the staff at the salon determine what that person’s skin type is. The fairest skin type, skin type 1, would be directed to spray tanning as an option, but no sunbed. Skin type 1 does not tan and they would get no benefit from a sunbed. This is standard practice in North America, and it is good business. Nothing would be accomplished if they let a skin type 1 person tan because burning clients is a guaranteed path to driving away business. 

Skin type 2 is tricky. That is my skin type. The survey I took put me at the lowest part of the skin type 2 range so I had to move forward slowly and conservatively. The higher range of skin type 2 is not quite as delicate, but still needs a close eye on how the skin reacts to UV exposure. For me, I worked with the staff to set a schedule of only 3 minutes in the sunbed, waiting 48 hours between visits. I was in a level one sunbed (UVA and UVB rays) that had a maximum time of 20 minutes for any skin type.  Someone who has not tanned regularly, with sensitivity to sun exposure like me, would need to start out very gradual.  Professional salons train their staff to know how to handle the fairest skin type 2. They know how to handle all skin types, but a fair skin type 2 would be the one most likely to burn if they did something wrong. The staff at my salon was very knowledgeable about how to slowly build the exposure time without burning me. They prepared me for the results to be unnoticeable for a few weeks. They were right.  It seemed to take a very long time for me to see any tan lines. I still do not see a major difference between my tan skin and my untanned skin.  Skin type 3 and 4 do not burn as easily and have a little more wiggle room on tanning schedules, but never allowed more than the maximum time limit for the equipment being used.

Sunbeds have a maximum exposure time. There are beds with maximum exposure time of 10, 15 and 20 minutes so there is an equation that factors in the max exposure time and person’s skin type that a trained professional would use to set the customer’s tanning schedule.  Starting out in a 20 min max sunbed was different than it would have been in a 15 min max or a 10 min max for me. That max time is just that, the most a person could use the equipment per session no matter who it is, even the skin types that aren’t sensitive and don’t burn easily. I also know now that tanning beds are only 2-3 times stronger than the sun, yet it is often reported that they are 10-15 times stronger.  That is just one of the many things misrepresented about tanning, and one of the inspirations for me to start blogging about my experience.

I have learned that professional salons have their client’s safety as their top priority. They are careful to follow their safety protocol to ensure no one gets burned. They stay well below exposure times to keep the risks of burning low. They stick to the maximum exposure times per bed.  Again, it would be a very bad business plan for a salon to not follow these rules because they would burn clients and lose business.

I have learned that my ever so slight base tan protects me from sunburn. I know this because I have successfully spent hours outdoors with no SPF or 20-25 SPF with no sign of sunburn. That is certainly something I could never have done before tanning in the salon. Untanned skin burns more easily than tanned skin, plain and simple. With so many messages out there to avoid any and all UV, to wear sunscreen constantly, it seems to be working against nature. We are avoiding the sun, so we have become more sensitive to the sun. I lived like this for years and I burned anytime I was in the sun for more than 10 minutes before I built a base tan.  Something that I hear often is the claim that “I burn the first time I’m in the sun, and then it turns into a tan.” This is a common misconception, one I believed for years too, but the reality is that the skin burns, then peels to the underlying skin layer that was not overexposed. What we need to promote and encourage, is not to burn, ever. We need to take it slow and build the base tan gradually. The burn turning into a tan is a myth, the base tan protecting us is not a myth.

I now know how prevalent Vitamin D deficiency is and that it is a very serious problem.  I have learned what Vitamin D does in our bodies to help fight disease and illness. I understand that it is vital for a healthy lifestyle and that most of Americans are deficient. Being deficient puts us at risk of over 100 diseases including cancer. Vitamin D deficiency is 50 percent higher now than it was just 15 years ago and I believe it comes from that constant message to avoid the sun.

I have learned that groups who oppose tanning, like to throw out numbers to scare the public into believing skin cancer is a major risk threatening our lives. Like it is somehow more of a threat facing the general population than it has been in years past. But it is really only a threat to 2 percent of the population. I do not mean to sound callus, skin cancer is a serious issue and I believe it is something to be concerned, and vigilant about. However, it is not as rampant as they make it sound, and the relationship of UV exposure and skin cancer is not as clear cut as they say. They misrepresent studies to support their views when those studies show that professional salons do not contribute to the statistics they cite. They overstate the risks and misinform the public.  The truth is that skin cancer is a minimal risk when compared to the health risks of Vitamin D deficiency. Funny how doctors will prescribe medications that have severe side effects to treat an illness because the benefits would outweigh the risk, yet when it comes to UV exposure it seems the smaller risk of skin cancer wins over the many benefits of a healthy Vitamin D level.  It is backwards thinking.

I have learned that chemical sunscreen is dangerous when used constantly. The chemicals are absorbed into our skin and it blocks absorption of UV needed for Vitamin D. It is a double whammy. We should only need to use sunscreen when there is a chance we will be in the sun long enough to burn.  It should not be used daily. 

I have learned that there have been enough stories about tanning being bad for you and virtually no stories being told about how it can be beneficial. There are success stories out there, like my experience. That is why I decided to tell the other side of the story. Since sharing my story I have been contacted by many people with similar situations, stories, and experiences. I have heard many people say their doctor suggested tanning, and after hearing my story they have done their own research and made more informed decisions on what would work best for them. I don't believe there is a one size fits all solution and being informed is the best approach no matter what the issue.

The bottom line is, it is all about moderation, and some people just don’t understand that.  There is a misconception that all tanners are dark, leathery, and old looking. But we are just normal people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We just have better Vitamin D levels than the general population. 

On a personal note, while writing this post I realized how much I have learned and I think I may have needed to break this one down because it has gone in so many directions. But I already put the time into it so I am posting it as is. I guess I have learned that I am still very passionate about this subject and that neglecting my blog means I ramble when I get back to writing. So I am re-committing to posting here regularly and hopefully I can scale things back and take on bits and pieces rather than trying to say everything all in one post. Thanks for reading!


  1. Shelly - what a smart, thoughtful post. Here's a recently published study that supports your position. It's a study called "Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality." 30,000 women tracked for 20 years. Those who got the most UV exposure - including tanning beds - had half the mortality rate of those who took derms advice to avoid UV. Tanning beds in particular were associated with 23% reduction in death. Here's a link:

    The results support your point: a slight uptick in melanoma was offset by 100 to 1 by decreases in far more deadly diseases like heart disease and internal cancers.

    Good for you for looking past the massive PR campaign and seeing the logic and benefit of moderate, non-burning UV exposure. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you. This experience has been eye opening for me. Thanks for sharing the link.

  2. You sound like a 3rd party tanning advocate. Sunbeds are not recommended as a source for vitamin D enhancement, they also cause photoageing and increaase the risk for melanoma. Remember the tanning Industry are only interested in selling sunbed sessions and not the general health of the public. Many of my friends rue the day they ever stepped foot in a sunbed shop as they now have Melanoma and face an uncetain future and potential death sentence.
    You can get all the vitamin D you need from 10 to 15 minutes sun exposure a day and from diet and supplements.

    1. I tan 5-7 minutes in a sunbed once a week. That is equivalent to what you just recommended. And you proved my point that when it comes to tanning, it seems to be assumed that moderation isn't possible. Read some of my other posts and you will find that my doctor recommended tanning as a solution to my severe Vitamin D deficiency. Supplements did not work for me and there is no dietary source on the planet sufficient enough to bring a severely deficient level up to a healthy range. UV is the most effective and efficient source, and when done in moderate, non burning doses, it can be a viable option for people.

    2. And I wanted to thank you for your comment. I do appreciate hearing opinions and it helps me communicate better in future posts. I think the important thing here is having an open discussion.

    3. You are welcome to my comments however the tanning industry love to use the mantre "Responsible or moderate tanning" giving the impresssion that sunbed use is safe. What they fail to mention however is the lifetime cunulative effects of UV exposure on the skins DNA.. Cancer Research UK do not recommend sunbeds for cosmetic purposes whatsover and also for enhancement of Vtamin D as do the British Association of Dermatologists

    4. Your response brings up some questions for me and maybe it is different in the UK than here in the US so I am curious to hear your perspective on a few points. If someone is unable to metabolize or tolerate Vitamin D through supplement form, what would be the recommendation for someone severely deficient if sunbeds are not an option?

      You mentioned sun exposure would be sufficient, yet sunbeds are unacceptable, what is the difference in your opinion?

      In the US, professional salons limit how long and how often a person tans based on their skin type to prevent overexposure. Skin type 1, the fairest skin type, are not allowed to tan in salons because they would burn.
      In the US, Dermatologists use a treatment called Phototherapy which uses UV exposure to treat non life threatening skin conditions such as Psoriasis. This treatment intentionally burns the skin therefore increasing the risk of skin cancer in their own patients. Yet they rally against salons who use the same equipment without burning people. So I don't put a lot of faith in the position of Dermatologists.

      I personally have never been able to be in the sun before getting the slow gradual exposure offered in a salon. I never could have done this without the controlled dosages. Before tanning in a salon, I burned when outdoors more than 10 minutes, even when I used sunscreen. I was too sensitive. In my lifetime I have had some horrible burns, as a result I stayed away from the sun and that just lead to my Vitamin D deficiency.

      I am truly interested in what your thoughts are here.

    5. You only need 15 to twenty minutes sun exposure to face and hands to get the Vitamin D you need. If you use a tanning bed you are exposing your whole body to large amounts of radiation. If you have moles then these could turn malignant, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Melanoma risk is ncreases by 59%. It is your choice but read the Advice fron skin cancer org on tanning beds and vitamin D.

    6. The fact that you state that you don't get burn't on a tanning bed does not make sense to me as it is equivalent to lying out in the meditterannean midday sun unprotected. Yet you say you burn outdoors after ten minutes where the sun is less intense. That is not possible,

    7. Risk of melanoma increases from .002 to .003, not 59 percent. You are quoting relative risks and I am looking at absolute risk. There is a really big difference between the two. If what you quote were true over half the people who tan regularly would have melanoma and it wouldn't occur in non tanners, I think we can both agree that isn't true. Your numbers do not translate to real life and that is where the major misunderstanding comes in. I have researched statistics and studies by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society, as well as the Vitamin D Society. There is not really much of an increased risk compared to the health issues I was having prior to bringing up my Vitamin D levels.

      Read my post, before tanning I would burn when outdoors more than 10 minutes. I SLOWLY built up UV exposure in the controlled environment. I tanned 3 minutes to start. I increased my time over weeks and months. Once I reached a healthy Vitamin D level I went to a maintain schedule of 5-7 minutes once a week. I am now able to be outdoors for hours without burning for the first time in my life. I could not have done that without the help of having controlled doses of UV. Being outside I had no idea how much UV I was getting, the guess work was taken out of the equation by going to a salon.