Tanning, in its most unglamourous form, is simply the body’s response to skin cell damage caused by ultraviolet light. Through a chain of cause-and-effect, exposure to UVA and UVB radiation stimulates the production of melanin, the skin’s pigment, in a desperate attempt to protect the skin from further damage.

Unfortunately, as each layer of skin is shed, (every 2 to 3 days on average), newer cells will revert to their usual level of melanin, leaving the skin once again vulnerable to ultraviolet light. The cycle repeats itself, resulting in damaged skin that has lost its elasticity (i.e. tough, leathery, and prematurely wrinkled), ‘liver spots’, and a range of skin cancer conditions from basal cell to carcinoma, to melanoma.

UV radiation damages the DNA of skin cells. If this damage affects the DNA of genes that control cell growth, skin cancer may develop. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. It accounts for an estimated 1/3 of all new cases of cancer in Canada and its incidence rate continues to rise (Canadian Cancer Society/National Cancer Institute of Canada: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008, p. 26) .

But to the usual tanner, the choice is simple….to go through life looking pasty-white, or to wear an enviable radiant brown coat of skin.

For a while, tanning beds, though expensive and time-consuming, seemed like an attractive alternative, and were touted as the healthy alternative to sun tanning. Unfortunately however, serious questions have now been raised as to the health risks associated with this method.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays that burn the skin – UVA and UVB. Of the two, UVB is the more harmful. Tanning beds claim to screen ultraviolet light. However this claim only applies to UVA. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that more than 23 minutes per year in a tanning bed does irrepairable harm. The radiation from tanning beds is 5 times the intensity of the noontime sun at the equator. One of the common side-effects of ‘bed tanning’ is the development of spider veins: as the blood in your veins actually boils, it damages vascular structure, and results in unsightly discolouration.

A serious study of the hazards of ultraviolet light would lead you to be extremely cautious regarding exposure to ultraviolet light.