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Be Proactive When Combatting Tanning Bed Misinformation on Social Media


Influencers promote the use of tanning beds and list the “benefits,” such as obtaining vitamin D and helping with seasonal affective disorder, among other reasons that have no merit.

Tanning bed and warning sign | Image credit: pit-fall - stock.adobe.com

Credit: pit-fall/AdobeStock

As dermatology practitioners, providing education at the clinic is natural. Unfortunately, we have quickly realized that more outreach is needed. With social media advancing at an alarming speed in daily life, it is time we start pivoting our education to be inclusive outside the clinic. A good example of social media’s reach is its influence on our younger generations who are born into the electronic age and can access information quickly. With platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and others, misinformation is rampant, spread by so-called "influencers” who have no education about dermatology.

It took years of misinformation exposure to subject our Gen Alpha to using skin care products not recommended for their skin type, leading to damaged barriers, increased dermatology office visits, and frustrated parents. This mishap of people following the wrong advice is why creating education beyond the clinic is more important now than ever.

Being on social media daily, I see the rampant skin care misinformation disseminated as I scroll through content. Though many dermatology providers have taken to social media, the views, comments, and engagement on science-backed facts are going by the wayside as popular influencers are reaching thousands to millions of followers with dangerous misinformation. A continued exposure of the same message turns into a belief without the appropriate evidence pointing out otherwise.

One of the many concerns trending and gaining momentum is using tanning beds, with the message that they are not dangerous but actually "good for us." Influencers promote the use of tanning beds and list the “benefits,” such as obtaining vitamin D and helping with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), among other reasons that have no merit and shouldn't be followed. These posts do not examine the risks vs. benefits ratio of UV exposure or the significant proven dangers of using a tanning bed. Natural sunlight is part of our daily existence, and exposure is inevitable. Still, credible education is critical to safety while benefiting from its exposure or using safer modalities such as diet, supplements, and safe light boxes that remove damaging UV rays. This topic often comes up in the clinic and is clarified with research-based evidence.

We know sunlight produces vitamin D and helps with SAD, but we shouldn't ignore that the risk of UV exposure outweighs obtaining these benefits. Nonetheless, tanning beds emit 3 times more UV exposure than natural sunlight and are mostly UVA, known to produce DNA damage if used chronically. Exposure to natural UV light without adequate protection can increase one's risk of developing skin cancer, and promoting tanning beds is even more dangerous and can lead the public to false beliefs.

A peer-reviewed publication found that "vitamin D's inherent nature of being self-regulating and safe should encourage the public to increase UV exposure safely and seek regular skin exams. By avoiding sunburn and wearing high-quality sunscreen, higher levels of vitamin D can be achieved while minimizing the risks associated with UV exposure. When UV light is not abundant, vitamin D supplementation may also benefit health."1 However, these facts are not shared when influencers promote tanning beds and instead create a resurgence of tanning bed use instead of exposure to natural sun safely.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD affects approximately 5% of the US population, lasting about 40% of the year. It is identified as a type of depression by the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)."2 It happens during certain seasons of the year—most often fall or winter. It is thought that shorter days and less daylight may trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to symptoms of depression. Light therapy and antidepressants can help treat SAD."3

"Social media content related to tanning behavior is common, a previous study examined Twitter and found 7.7 mentions of indoor tanning per minute, with only a small percentage mentioning health risks."4 Unfortunately, the ignorance of these posts requires dermatology practitioners to step in. Studies show that health care providers can use social media to their benefit and promote healthy behaviors, but the research on the success of these campaigns is in its early stages.5 However, the momentum of a cohesive voice is possible and will likely have a positive impact. It costs absolutely nothing and can save a life.

We must become more active in our community and partner with non-profit organizations to disseminate the needed message about the dangers of tanning beds, how to safely acquire vitamin D, how to address SAD, and debunk any other myths about tanning beds being of any benefit. Together, we can be proactive instead of reactive to make a difference.

Renata Block, MMS, PA-C, is a board-certified physician assistant at SKIN Dermatology in Munster, Indiana, and a Dermatology Times Editorial Advisory Board member.


  1. Raymond-Lezman JR, Riskin SI. Benefits and risks of sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Cureus. 2023 May 5;15(5):e38578. doi: 10.7759/cureus.38578.
  2. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). American Psychiatric Association. Updated March 2024. Accessed April 3, 2024. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/seasonal-affective-disorder
  3. What is seasonal affective disorder? Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed April 3, 2024. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/seasonal-affective-disorder#:~:text=Seasonal%20affective%20disorder%2C%20or%20SAD,antidepressants%20can%20help%20treat%20SAD.
  4. Moreno MA, Jenkins MC, Lazovich D. Tanning misinformation posted by businesses on social media and related perceptions of adolescent and young adult white non-Hispanic women: mixed methods study. JMIR Dermatol. 2021 May 19;4(1):e25661. doi: 10.2196/25661.
  5. Falzone AE, Brindis CD, Chren MM, Junn A, Pagoto S, Wehner M, Linos E. Teens, tweets, and tanning beds: rethinking the use of social media for skin cancer prevention. Am J Prev Med. 2017 Sep;53(3S1):S86-S94. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.04.027.
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