Aren't tanning beds always dangerous no matter what?
November 28, 2012 5:27 AM   Subscribe

My friend went to a dermatologist who reccomended the use of a tanning bed. ARe they seeing a quack?

So my friend is saying thath their dermatologist recommended thath they use an indoor tanning bed lightly in the summer. This was not to get a tan but for some reason connected to the fact thath they work a seasonal job outside in the spring/summer/fall, but not in the winter. I've had it beated into my irish brain that merely looking or thinking about a tanning bed is a deathwish. Is there any legitimate use of a tanning bed? Is this doctor crazy?
posted by WeekendJen to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm sorry, I meant they were told to use it lightly in the WINTER. My mind was so blown by the idea it got confused =)
posted by WeekendJen at 5:28 AM on November 28, 2012

A friend of mine works for a company that makes UV light arrays for treatment of dermatological disorders (psoriasis; I think vitiligo; &c). The majority of his job is dealing with FDA approval for medical devices.

I don't think your friend's doctor is crazy. There are accepted treatment protocols that involve exposure to UV light, and it is possible that your friend only requires low, imprecise doses of the sort that he or she can get at a tanning salon or with a non-medical tanning bed.

It is possible that you've internalized a much stronger negative message about exposure to UV light than is, medically speaking, strictly necessary.
posted by gauche at 5:36 AM on November 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

As a psoriasis sufferer I can confirm that sun beds are often suggested as an alternative treatment alongside the usual creams and steroids.

Safe, controlled exposure to the sun's rays is beneficial to the skin. Rates of psoriasis (and other dry skin conditions) are much lower in sunny tropical climates.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:48 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not a quack. This is a legitimate thing. I got pityriasis rosea and my dermatologist stuck me in a UV chamber (not a bed, a stand up thing. This had to have been 30 years ago, but still...)

It was only a couple of minutes as I go from chalky to broiled in about 3 minutes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:50 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister has psoriasis and she has been encouraged to go to a tanning bed when she has a particualrly bad flare up. We even had a big UV light wall thing in our house growing up for her to use. Her stomach and thighs (places where the sun rarely hits) can get really bad and painful for her. The tanning bed is her last resort fix for it, and it is pretty effective. She hates doing it for all the skin cancer reasons, but some times it is worth the trade off.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:57 AM on November 28, 2012

I have psoriasis and was being treated with light therapy at my dermatologist's office for a short time. It was essentially 30s-1m in a light booth (which looks exactly like a stand-up taninng bed). I had to stop the treatments (because it took me 45 minutes round trip for a 3 minute visit) so my dermatologist told me I could use a tanning bed instead.

He stresses that it is not for *tanning* and to not stay in for 20 minutes, but more like 5 minutes per week or so. I am lazy, so I only really do it in the dead of winter, but the difference is remarkable.
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 5:57 AM on November 28, 2012

I used UV light treatment at the derm office when my eczema was pretty bad. After it was back to a manageable level, I was told I could use a tanning bed occasionally as needed or just go out in the sun.
posted by chiababe at 6:03 AM on November 28, 2012

N-thing "there are legitimate therapeutic uses for UV rays". I have no desire to ever be tan, but I still hopped in a tanning bed for three minute stretches occasionally last winter - I stayed milky-white and I swear to jeebus it helped make seasonal affective disorder a little less hellish.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:11 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

It can be for the treatment of psoriasis and also to stimulate the production of Vitamin D.
posted by dfriedman at 6:15 AM on November 28, 2012

agreeing that can be prescribed for vitamin d, which your friend would be getting much less of during the winter, especially if inside.
posted by saraindc at 6:25 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, I've had a doctor suggest light tanning for keratosis pilaris.
posted by griphus at 6:28 AM on November 28, 2012

A friend of mine uses tanning beds in winter and she swears it really helps mitigate her seasonal affective disorder.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:30 AM on November 28, 2012

It's also used as a desensitization treatment for certain types of photosensitivity such as solar urticaria and polymorphous light eruption. I get the latter, and my dermatologist recommended phototherapy.
posted by desuetude at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2012

Another person here who switched to using commercial tanning beds rather than the dermatologist UV light treatment, because the cost difference was a $50 copay versus $11 per session if I buy a package of 5.

Medical light therapy is carefully controlled and calibrated to emit only UVA radiation, which is supposed to be lower cancer risk. Commercial tanning salons use primarily UVA radiation, but if the beds are not properly maintained, can produce higher levels of UVB, which raises the risk of cancer. Different machines can also deliver different dosages of UV radiation that can be difficult to predict if the machines are not calibrated correctly.

Your friend should go to a place with new machines that are well maintained - a dedicated tanning salon is a better choice than the one bed in the back of a salon or spa - and tan only for 3-5 minutes at a time, on the same machine if possible to reduce the risk of poor calibration.

As several dermatologists have explained to me, the risks to this treatment choice are some amount that is between small and very small, but definitely not zero. Or as one doctor said "I tell my patients that any amount of UV radiation is dangerous because that's what gets them to put on sunscreen."
posted by psycheslamp at 10:38 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another yes to using the tanning parlor sometimes because light therapy at the hospital is too inconvenient with long working hours. And three minutes 2 times a week can help a lot with my skin condition. Just a warning: for me, anything over 3 minutes leads to scary and potentially dangerous sun-damage. I've taken 5 minutes at two separate occasions because I misread the instructions, and had major burns.
posted by mumimor at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2012

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