How Much Tanning is Too Much?

Despite all the warnings about the link between the sun and skin cancer, many people still try to get--and keep--a tan. So that prompts us to ask the question: How much tanning is too much?

If you are one of the many people addicted to sun tanning (yes, it is addictive), the answer will disappoint you. No amount of tanning is safe.

The sun produces ultraviolet radiation (UV) that damages our genes and sets off a process that may lead to skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation says, "the melanoma [a deadly form of skin cancer] genome contains more than 33,000 mutations, many of which bear the imprint of the most common cause of melanoma-exposure to UV light."

Vitamin D

It's true that we need sun to make vitamin D, a critical nutrient that supports calcium in building and maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D deficiency is serious. However, you cannot use it as an excuse to get a tan. Just 15 or 20 minutes of sunshine each day is adequate for vitamin D production.

Base Tans

There is a common misconception that a base tan will protect you from the dangers of the sun's rays. A tan means skin damage; it's permanent and irreversible. A tan-any tan-harms your skin and increases your risk for developing cancer.

Tanning Beds

Indoor tanning may actually be worse for you than tanning in the sun. People who tan indoors are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma. Still not convinced? The radiation from UV-emitting tanning machines rays are on the list of the most dangerous cancer-causing radiation-right along with plutonium!

Self-Tanning Products

Self-tanning products temporarily dye the top layer of your skin. They generally don't produce irritant or allergic reactions and are a safer option than tanning. Make sure DHA is the active ingredient in the brand you purchase. Don't be lulled into complacency that using a self-tanning product protects you from the sun's damaging rays. You must still practice safe sun.

An individual's risk for developing skin cancer or melanoma is based on his or her lifetime exposure and increases with time outdoors. Most of us spend more time in the sun before we turn 20 than we do after. So your risk for melanoma today is based, in large part, on your sun exposure as a child. If you are a parent, warn your children about the dangers of tanning and teach them how to prevent sunburn.


American Cancer Society. "Tanning Beds may Increase Skin Cancer Risk." Web.

"Tanning." Skin Cancer Foundation. Web.

National Cancer Institute. Health Information National Trends Survey. "HINTS Briefs." Web. May 2007.

National Cancer Institute. "Individuals' Risk of Melanoma Increases with Time Outdoors, Especially in High-Sunlight Areas." Web. 14 July 2002.

American Academy of Dermatology. "American Academy of Dermatology 2010 "Suntelligence: How Sun Smart is Your City?" Fact Sheet." Web. 3 May 2010.