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Are Tanning Salons Safe?

My 17-year-old daughter wants to go tanning at a tanning salon. She says all her friends are doing it. Is this safe?
- Anjali

Even though many teens are into tanning, it's best for them to stay out of tanning salons and tanning beds. Tanning at a salon is not safer than tanning in the sun. The UV rays that cause the tan in a salon are involved in the development of skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. These UV rays also cause premature wrinkling of the skin.

It's also important to be cautious about airbrush or spray-on tans. The FDA hasn't approved DHA (the main ingredient in self-tanner) for use internally or on mucous membranes (like the lips). Spray tans may have unknown health risks because people can breathe in the spray, or the tanner may end up on their lips or eye area.

If your daughter is set on getting a few shades darker, suggest buying a sunless tanner (available in any drugstore) to apply at home. Also, make sure she applies plenty of sunscreen before hitting the beach or spending time outdoors.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: April 2015