Tanning beds and lamps

If you think going to a tanning salon is a safe way to tan, think again. There is no safe way to tan. A tan from the sun's rays or under lights in a tanning salon will damage your skin and cause other adverse health effects, including an increased risk of skin cancer.

Health Canada recommends you do not use tanning equipment (like sunlamps or tanning beds).

If you do use tanning equipment, it is important to know the risks so you can make an informed decision. By learning the facts about tanning now, you can protect yourself from skin cancer later in life.

Safety tips

  • Getting a tan under lights before you go south in the winter will only provide very limited protection to your skin in the tropics. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least sun protection factor (SPF) 15 when you travel south.
  • Try to convince teenagers not to use tanning salons.
  • Try to find other ways to look tanned. You can apply a cream that will colour your skin and give you the appearance of a tan.

Did you know?

You may think a tan looks healthy, but a tan is actually a sign that UV rays have already damaged your skin.

Health risks of tanning

A tan is when your body produces melanin (a substance that gives skin its colour). This process can happen when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). Two kinds of UV rays can cause tanning: UVA and UVB. When your skin turns darker, it is telling you that damage has been done.

There is a lot of scientific proof that repeated exposure to UV rays can cause skin cancer:

  • The International Agency for Cancer Research estimates that using tanning equipment often (for example, once a week from 20 years of age) will result in about double the risk of non-melanocytic skin cancer by age 45. A number of studies have also demonstrated that the risk of developing cutaneous melanoma can increase up to 75% when tanning devices are used before the age of 35.
  • The World Health Organization recently changed the classification of the use of UV-emitting tanning devices to "carcinogenic to humans".

UVA and UVB rays can also cause sunburn, premature aging of your skin, damage to your eyes, and other health effects.

Using tanning equipment

People at tanning salons may tell you their lights are safe. The fact is, their lights may give off 10 to 15 times as much UVA as the sun. UV rays from tanning lamps can have the same or worse health effects as UV from the sun!

There are many different brands and models of tanning beds and lamps on the market in Canada. Each gives off different amounts of UVA and UVB radiation, depending on the type of bulbs used.

If you use a tanning bed or lamp either at home or in a salon, you should read the label on the equipment. Warning labels tell you the recommended time you should be exposed each session (depending on your skin type).

Skin types

  • Always burns, never tans
  • Always burns and tans very little
  • Burns somewhat but tans gradually
  • Burns a little but tans easily (olive skin)
  • Rarely burns and tans easily (brown skin)
  • Never burns, tans darkly black (dark brown/black skin)

It is important to make an informed decision about how long and how often you are exposed to UV radiation from tanning lamps. If you go over the recommended time for your skin type, or use tanning lamps more often than recommended, your risk of health problems will increase.

Reduce your risk

If you do decide to use tanning equipment, follow these steps to help reduce your risk:

  • Tanning equipment should be appropriately labelled. Look for, read and follow the warning labels on the tanning bed or lamp you are using and follow the directions carefully.
  • If you go to a tanning salon, talk to the salon operator about your skin's sensitivity and your ability to tan. This should help the operator recommend the amount of time for your tanning session and how often you should tan.
  • Do not go over the recommended time each tanning session for your skin type.
  • Allow at least 48 hours between each tanning session. This will give your skin a chance to repair damage from the UV rays and may slow down the aging effects caused by the exposure.
  • Always wear the safety eyewear that is recommended for the type of lamp you are using.
  • Be sure there is a physical barrier (like a clear sheet of acrylic) between you and the tanning bulbs. This will help prevent heat burns from the lamp.
  • Report any side effects (like sunburn or itchiness) to the salon operator. In cases of severe sunburn, see your health care provider.
  • Do not use tanning lamps more often than is prescribed for your particular skin type.

How the Government of Canada protects you

Health Canada analyzes and manages health risks related to UV rays. We regulate the sale, lease, and importation of tanning lamps and check that equipment complies with the Radiation Emitting Devices Act. We promote public awareness of the harmful effects of UV rays. We also publish the Guidelines for Tanning Salon Owners, Operators and Users.

Date modified: