According to a series of papers published in the October issue of Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, the official journal of the Society for Melanoma Research, there is no such thing as a safe suntan.
These leading researchers in the fields of cell biology, dermatology and epidemiology have examined the effects on skin of UV radiation, including the radiation received from indoor tanning beds, and they've called for the use of such beds by under 18-year olds to be banned, along with any publicity that claims that tanning beds are safe. It appears they are not - at all- safe.
Sunbathing or using an indoor tanning bed affects the skin negatively in a number of ways, including DNA damage, photoaging (damage to the skin from chronic exposure to sunlight) and skin cancer. UV radiation is the most widely present carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) for humans; in fact, skin is the organ most commonly affected by cancer in the human body.
Although more research is required, published data suggests that indoor tanning beds, which are frequently used by young women, are linked to an increased risk of melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer), and do not support the idea that tanning beds are safe. This "perfectly safe" mantra is used by the tanning bed industry and has been for decades.
In one of three papers in the series published in the mentioned journal, Dr David E Fisher, dermatologist, and his colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston) have explored the social issues and molecular mechanisms related to tanning caused by UV exposure. Reviewing published data in the field, the authors report that both tanning and skin cancer seem to begin with the same event – DNA damage caused by UV exposure. This leads them to suggest that a ‘safe’ tan with UV may be a physical impossibility.
The authors conclude: "[This] exposure represents one of the most avoidable causes of cancer risk and mortality in man. Whereas genetic and other factors undoubtedly contribute importantly to skin cancer risk, the role of UV is incontrovertible, and efforts to confuse the public, particularly for purposes of economic gain by the indoor tanning industry, should be vigorously combated for the public health.” The WHO estimated that, in the year 2000, up to 71,000 deaths worldwide were attributed to excessive UV exposure.