A recent episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” explored the popularity of tanning salons — an industry that, despite only being around for about 40 years, boasts more U.S. locations than Dunkin’ Donuts.
But just because they’re everywhere doesn’t necessarily mean they’re healthy.
In fact, the World Health Organization says prolonged sunbed use contributes directly to skin cancer and skin aging, while the beds’ UV lights can cause a number of eye problems, including inflammation of the cornea and iris, and in rare cases, squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva.
“Ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices” are now on the WHO’s Group 1 List of known human carcinogens. That list also contains asbestos, formaldehyde, the hepatitis B and C viruses, outdoor air pollution, and tobacco.
“While WHO does not recommend the use of UV tanning devices for cosmetic purposes, it is recognized that sunbeds continue to be available to the public,” the organization said on its website.
Trade groups for the tanning industry argue sunbeds are actually beneficial. The American Suntanning Association says that the UVB lights in tanning beds increase users’ levels of healthy vitamin D.
But there are many other ways to get your necessary dose of vitamin D — eating dairy products and fish, taking a vitamin pill, and just going outside for 10 minutes at least three times a week.