Indoor tanning risky; no substitute for psoriasis phototherapy

| Tamara Miller

Using tanning beds or tanning booths to treat psoriasis increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Indoor tanning raises the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology and the World Health Organization.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reclassified sunlamps (which are used in tanning beds and booths) from Class I (low risk) to Class II (moderate risk) products. The FDA can exert more regulatory control over Class II products, according to a press release on the FDA website.

Some people with psoriasis still use tanning beds to treat their disease. However, the National Psoriasis Foundation does not support the use of indoor tanning beds as a substitute for phototherapy performed with a prescription and under a doctor's supervision.

Phototherapy, or light therapy, involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis under medical supervision. Treatments are done in a doctor's office or at home with a phototherapy unit monitored by a health care professional. All phototherapy treatments, including purchase of equipment for home use, require a prescription.

The beneficial effect of light therapy for psoriasis comes primarily from ultraviolet light B (UVB). Present in natural sunlight, UVB is an FDA-approved treatment for psoriasis. UVB penetrates the skin and slows the growth of affected skin cells.

However, the spectra of light in tanning beds vary greatly and often include wavelengths of light that can cause cancer and skin damage.

"Tanning beds do not offer the proper wavelengths of light to be efficacious in the treatment of psoriasis," said Dr. Jerry Bagel, a member of the Foundation Medical Board. "The wavelengths of light delivered by tanning beds are deleterious and increase the risk of melanoma. The risk is very high and the benefit to psoriasis is very low, therefore utilizing tanning beds is a very bad idea in the treatment of psoriasis."

An estimated 13,000 people die each year from skin cancer, and about 9,700 of those deaths are due to melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society.

Search for a health care provider who offers light therapy in your area on the NPF physician directory.

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