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Indoor tanning: Your skin’s worst enemy

If you think going to a tanning salon is a safe way to get that summer glow, think again. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV), whether from natural sunlight, tanning beds or artificial lamps, poses some not-so-healthy consequences. Whether you’re tanning indoors or out, you run the risk of developing skin cancers, eye injuries such as cornea burns and cataracts, premature aging and wrinkles. What’s more, UV radiation can cause severe sunburn by interacting with medications like naproxen (sold over the counter as Naprosyn and Aleve), tetracycline and some hormone pills.

A warning sign

Instead of being a sign of health and vitality, a suntan is a signal that your skin has been injured. A tan results when your body attempts to protect your skin from burning by producing a pigment called melanin. Damage accumulates over years, even when no burning occurs.

Researchers are finding that artificial sources of UV may be more dangerous than those that come from the sun. Like sunlight, the UV sources in tanning beds and sunlamps emit both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. But the artificial sources emit higher doses of UVA radiation—up to three times more than natural sunlight.

Because UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin, they’re less likely to cause your skin to burn. But they can do more harm than UVB rays by damaging your skin’s immune system. Since your skin can no longer protect itself, you may run a higher risk of developing melanoma, a particularly deadly form of skin cancer.

Save your skin

Protect yourself by avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps altogether and using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher whenever you’re outdoors.

If you must have a tan, try a sunless tanning lotion. Many of these lotions lack sunscreen, so you’ll still need to use extra protection when you go outside. Some tanning salons offer sunless, spray-on tanning. While it’s a safer alternative to UV lamps, you must take measures to prevent exposure to your eyes, lips and any mucous membranes and to avoid inhaling or ingesting any of the product.