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Doctor: Tanning in Salons Carries Dangers, Spray Tan OK

May 21, 2004

Despite the claims of salon owners, regular use of tanning lamps (in tanning beds), does carry some dangers – it increases risk of cancer and speeds up the onset of wrinkles, according to Dr. Eduardo Arias, a dermatologist with CIMA Hospital in Escazú, southwest of San José.“In tanning salons, they don’t have as strict control over the lamps (in the tanning beds) as they do over the lamps in an apparatus that would be used for medical purposes,” Arias said.He noted there is a discrepancy between a basic tanning unit that can be purchased in the United States for about $750 and a photo-therapy unit for medical usage that would cost $12,000-15,000.According to Arias, studies have shown that in some cases, commercial tanning beds emit ultraviolet A, ultraviolet B and ultraviolet C light.Ultraviolet A light is responsible for making skin darker or tanning, ultraviolet B light can make skin red or burnt and is responsible for some cancer cases, while ultraviolet C light is linked to a high incidence of cancer.Theoretically, ultraviolet C light should not reach Earth, but does so in small quantities in areas as in Australia where the ozone layer is not intact.There are benefits to sun exposure (namely ultraviolet A and B) and it can be used to treat a number of skin conditions. However, Arias is hesitant to recommend tanning salons to his patients, not only because of the quality of the lamps but also because he said he does not feel confident the technicians have enough knowledge to operate them safely. He recommends that his patients with psoriasis (a chronic skin disease), for example, go to the beach on the weekends instead.“If I had to choose between a tanning salon and the sun, I would prefer the sun,” Arias said. “Because I know that in this country, the sun doesn’t have ultraviolet light C, and I can’t guarantee that in a tanning salon.”A first in the country, CIMA Hospital is planning to establish a private photo-therapy unit, with Arias as the director, which is schedule to be up and running later this year. The machines will be for medical use only, to treat conditions such as psoriasis, acne, skin pigmentations, and certain types of subcutaneous lymphoma. As for the spray tan, such as “fantasy tan” or other self-tanners, Arias said, “As far as we know, at this point, they are safe. What could happen is the paint can become uneven and it can look a bit strange. But they won’t produce any kind of illness like cancer.”

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