UV Radiation 101

UV Radiation and Tanning

You may have already known about the dangers of UV radiation. But it's also important to be aware of some of the misconceptions.

One misconception is that tanning beds are safe. Many people think that their risk of getting skin cancer is not as high if they use tanning beds or tanning bulbs to achieve the look of golden-brown skin. This error stems from the belief that you can only get dangerous UV exposure from direct sunlight. The truth, however, is that tanning bulbs emit UV radiation just like the sun does, so getting your tan through "fake baking" is just as dangerous as laying outside in the sun.

The idea that a base tan will protect you from overexposure to the sun is another common misconception. The reasoning behind this concept is that, by visiting a tanning salon to acquire a base tan a few weeks prior to your vacation, you will reduce your risk of getting sunburned. But a base tan only prevents about 4 percent of UV rays from penetrating your skin, which just means that it may take you a little longer to burn. Add that to the UV rays you're exposed to in the tanning bed, and it's really not worth it at all [source: Gibson, AAD: Tanning].

When you go out in the sun, be smart. Know that UV rays can cause cancer and that you should take steps to protect your skin. To learn more about UV radiation and skin cancer prevention, visit the Web sites on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Indoor Tanning: What You May Not Know." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/indoor_tanning.html
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Melanoma: What it Looks Like." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/melanoma.html
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "More Young Patients Hearing "You Have Skin Cancer." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/young_patients_skin_cancer.html
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Skin Cancer: Need for Skin Exam Increases with Age." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/exam.html
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  • Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. "Ultraviolet Radiation." July 24, 2005. (Accessed 8/15/2009)http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/phys_agents/ultravioletradiation.html
  • Gibson, Lawrence E., M.D. "Sunburn." MayoClinic.com. (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tanning/AN00589
  • HealthDay. "Tanning Beds Get Highest Carcinogen Rating." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_87444.html
  • Melanoma. "What Is Melanoma?" (Accessed 8/16/2009)http://www.melanoma.com/whatis.html
  • National Cancer Institute. "Skin Cancer Prevention." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/skin/Patient/page3
  • NASA. ""Electromagnetic Spectrum." Jan. 12, 2009. (Accessed 9/4/2009)http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l1/emspectrum.html
  • WebMD. "Basal Cell Carcinoma." (Accessed 8/09/09)http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/basal-cell-carcinoma
  • Zeman, Gary, Scd, CHP. "Ultraviolet Radiation." Health Physics Society. May 26, 2009. (Accessed 8/15/2009)http://www.hps.org/hpspublications/articles/uv.html

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