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Tanning Bed and Your Eyes

Now that summer is over and more people are visiting the tanning salon to get a quick dose of color so they don’t lose that beautiful color from the summer.

But new research is showing that there is more risk in tanning than just a pink nose. According to the Health Physics Society specialists in radiation safety, “the eye is especially prone to damage in tanning booths. Research indicates that the ultraviolet radiation levels to the eye could be over 100 times greater in a tanning booth than outside in the sun and wearing sunglasses or keeping your eyes closed is not sufficient.”

So, to make sure your eyes are protected the Health Physics Society recommends the following:

  • Don’t overdo it. Start with short time intervals and slowly build up your exposure times.
  • Wear the goggles made for tanning booths. (CLOSING YOUR EYES during tanning does not protect your eyes – you must wear tanning goggles to block the UV rays)
  • Avoid direct contact with the bulbs.
  • Insure that an attendant is nearby to help you in an emergency. (Also know where the emergency shutoff is)
  • Don’t fall asleep in the bed.

According to the Report on Carcinogens, Ninth Edition the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourage avoidance of sunlamps and sunbeds.

If you are taking prescription drugs, check with your doctor before jumping into a tanning bed. A few prescriptions you may already be taking could have a reaction to ultraviolet radiation. This is different than sunlight. Just because the prescription you are taking may not say increases sensitivity to light, doesn’t mean they are also safe from ultraviolet radiation.

The FDA has published a list of medications that increased sensitivity to light (HHS Publication FDA 91-8280).

  • Some antibiotics
  • Some high blood pressure medications
  • Some tranquilizers
  • Diuretics
  • Some birth control pills
  • Some oral diabetes medications

Ultraviolet Radiation Emitted by Tanning Beds Causes DNA Mutations

UVA1 wavelengths, like UVB wavelengths, induce carcinogenic skin damage.

In 2009, the World Health Organization declared tanning beds to be carcinogens (JW Dermatol Jul 30 2009), based largely on epidemiologic evidence. The tanning bed industry countered, using marketing practices remarkably like those employed by tobacco manufacturers (J Am Acad Dermatol 2010; 62:685). Solar-radiation–related mutation is primarily attributed to effects of ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. The tanning industry claimed that the UVA1 wavelengths used in indoor tanning are safer. These investigators sought molecular evidence that the UVA1 radiation emitted by tanning beds also causes mutations in DNA.

They exposed small areas of the skin of 12 healthy volunteers (Fitzpatrick sun-reactive skin types I and II) to UVA1 or UVB radiation at doses that produced comparable levels of erythema. In biopsy samples taken from the irradiated skin sites immediately after exposure, cyclobutane thymine dimers (which lead to UVB signature mutations in skin cancers) were present primarily in the basal layer of the epidermis in the UVA1-exposed sites, but primarily in the upper epidermis in UVB-irradiated sites. UVB produced more than 4 times as many cyclobutane thymine dimers as UVA1 and also produced 6-4 photoproducts, the other major type of DNA mutation observed after UV radiation. UVA1 irradiation did not produce 6-4 photoproducts. Both UVA1 and UVB activated repair mechanisms able to partially repair damaged DNA, with comparable repair rates.

Comment: This evidence demonstrates that UVB and UVA1 have distinct effects on keratinocytes. Whereas the major site of UVB damage is the upper epidermis, most UVA1 damage showed up in the lower dermis — a particular concern because epidermal stem cells, which may be the targets cells of nonmelanoma skin cancers, are thought to reside in that location. These observations provide molecular evidence that the wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds cause skin cancer, a finding we can use to counsel patients about the consequences of such devices. The findings also suggest that broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB wavelengths will more effectively prevent skin cancer than those that block UVB alone.

Craig A. Elmets, MD
Published in Journal Watch Dermatology November 4, 2011











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