This is my first summer not fearing the sun, and I'm loving it. I'm also, however, wondering what I'll do once winter comes.
My concerns about tanning beds are that most (all?) bulbs don't mimic the sun. The UVA/UVB ratios are out-of-whack and I've also read that they can pump out a stronger dose of UV light than is possible to get from the sun.
Has anyone researched whether there are bulbs out there that actually mimic the sun's UV spectrum?
After purchasing two UV meters and a Mercola stand-up tanning bed, I'm can now shed some light on my own question.
First up: natural sunlight. Here in the vicinity of Washington DC, my measurements consistently show that UVB is about 7% of the UV spectrum (the rest is UVA). It varies a bit depending on time of day and cloud cover, but it's always close to 7%.
So I started looking at stand-up tanning units. The beauty of these things is that you can stand as far away from them as you want, so that you're not getting blasted with UV radiation that is stronger than what you get from the sun. The bulbs in Mercola's units are from ESB (www.esbtans.com). Before purchasing the unit I asked both ESB and Mercola's people what the UVB/UVA ratio of these bulbs is. ESB said 5%, Mercola said 10%. (Good information is hard to come by. :-) I figured I'd be good either way given my readings of 7% from the sun itself.
The unit arrived yesterday and I couldn't wait to set it up. The UVB percentage is 10%. The UV radiation as a whole (when measuring right up against the unit) is about 3-4 times stronger than the summer sun at solar noon here in DC. I have no desire to subject myself to this level of UV simply because it isn't natural. But I can get the UV levels that I desire by standing about 3 feet away: this gives me a level of UV roughly matching what I was measuring from the sun back in mid July.
So, I'm pretty pleased with this whole situation given that winter is right around the corner.
You have to be very careful at all times to avoid sunburn.
It's sunburn that starts the cancer process.
There are ways you can improve your skin's natural sunscreen potential so you can stay longer in the sun without burning. Making sure you are vitamin D replete (25(OH)D LEVEL around 50~60ng/ml 125~ 150nmol/l will help. Improving your omega 3 status with 2grams EPA+DHA fish oil daily while reducing consumption of omega 6 seed oils will reduce the current highly inflammatory status. Antioxidants like drinking Green Tea help as well. Keeping your vitamin D status high through the winter by regularly exposing skin to UVB will also keep your skin hardened to UV and reduce the risk of burning when exposed to full sun.
When buying replacement tubes for sunbeds you need to ensure they provides a reasonable UVB output. Here are examples. Philips Cleo Professional 100 Watt UVA Sunbed Tube 600-800 hrs UVB Strength: 1.4% Philips Advantage 6ft Tube 3% UVB
As only UVB creates Vitamin D that's the important part. Bear in mind they have a limited UVB lifespan so you can only guarantee UVB output if you remember when you last bought the tubes and know roughly how many hrs each week between Oct ~ March you used them. Or buy yourself a UVB meter to be certain they are still producing UVB.
I think if you were running a tanning studio it would be the responsible thing to do so you could assure your customers they could get Vitamin D from using the beds in winter. You only need about 4% of the time it takes to induce tanning to create vitamin D, so this would encourage MORE frequent but shorter duration visits. I maintain my tan throughout the winter through to summer by maintaining a daily 5000iu vitamin D3 supplement and regular short UVB(winter) Sun (summer) exposure.
The people working at tanning salons never know what they're talking about and never know the specs of their bulbs. UVB will be weak on all lamps, between 1-9.5%. And unless you don't shower for days, you won't absorb most of the vitamin D, anyway. Doesn't really matter that much. Just take a D pill and tan a little bit frequently. Don't get dark. And don't tan enough to burn. Give yourself 48hrs rest between tanning. 2-5min at a time is fine. Any tanning worker that tries to sell you creams or higher level "bronzing beds" with more UVB that will supposedly give you a different color are totally full of crap. Your skin does not respond to UVB, except that the cholesterol converts to vitamin D. And like I said, very little of the light on any of them will produce enough of that. UVA is the stuff that changes the color of your skin. And all the bulbs will do that. Anyone with a different pigment to their skin from "tanning" than normal is actually using a dye product.
I think it is best to get the suntan naturally from the Sun. And I don't fear sunburns, they go away.
I mean, tanning beds, spray on orange tans, it's all a bit silly, isn't it? When people can tan with the little light in the sky.