Alaska is known as the "Land of the midnight sun", but there isn't a whole lot of sunshine at midnight, even on the longest day of the year. Still, it is possible to get a tan outdoors in the summer, and even serious sun burn if you are not careful. Surprisingly, people do experience burns in cooler seasons due to sunlight reflected off snow and water. In 2001, the indoor tanning industry was nearly a $5 billion industry nationwide (Looking Fit Magazine, 09/01/2007), although the amount of business in Alaska is unknown in part because there are no requirements to register tanning beds with the state.

Alaska currently has no regulations specific to indoor tanning, although there is statutory authority to regulate the industry. A wide variation has been found in the quality of tanning services in the state so that consumers must be fully informed and use caution when considering this activity. If regulations were to be adopted those in the indoor tanning industry must be involved in the process. At this time there has been minimal visible indication of interest in pursuing regulation of indoor tanning in Alaska. Given the poor quality of the worst facilities, and the taint of all salons by their example, it could be helpful to establish higher safety levels and a more professional status if such legislation were pursued by reputable vendors. There have been several complaints filed with the Department of Health as a result of burns received during indoor tanning sessions. NOTE: See DISCLAIMER.

Tanning facilities have two new options available to them as a result of changes within the Department of Health, Radiological Health Program. You may request a courtesy evaluation of your facility, equipment, and procedures, and if there is substantial compliance with industry standards of practice a certificate of inspection will be issued. In addition, there is now a six (6) hour course in the Basics of Tanning which may be scheduled for presentation to your staff. The course is also designed to conform to tanning industry standards. There is a test at the end of the course, and operators who pass the test are provided a certificate attesting to completion of the training. If a participant does not wish to take the test a certificate of attendance only is issued.


Consumers Guide to Tanning

Alaska is not usually thought of as a sunshine state, but Alaskans do travel outside to sunnier climates in the winter. One common method used to cope with winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is to use bright lights, and/or tanning equipment, to mimic the brighter environments to the south. Tanning beds to treat SAD are not a standard medical practice, but those are perceptions of some consumers. This brochure is intended to help guide consumers who may use tanning equipment to be aware of the risks so that they use it in as safe a manner as possible. Exposure to ultraviolet light may be useful for treatment of certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, but medical ultraviolet sources are different and should never be used for tanning purposes. Whether or not it is advisable for any individual to use it is a matter that should be determined by consultation with your personal licensed physician.

The tanning process is achieved by exposure of the body to ultraviolet radiation sufficiently to cause changes in the skin. The two portions of the electromagnetic spectrum which provide useful ultraviolet radiation are in the range of 280-320 nm, called UVB, and 320-400 nm which is called UVA in the United States. Other countries define these limits differently, which contributes to some of the confusion regarding lamp recommendations.

There is a benefit to ultraviolet radiation exposure for many people. Solar ultraviolet radiation contributes to the formation of a substance in human skin that is metabolized and activated in the body to form an important "vitamin" (hormone), vitamin D. No independent research has been published at this time which indicates the emissions from a sun lamp, which utilizes a modified spectrum of the energies from sun light, also results in the production of vitamin D.

Tanning equipment may give you a tan, but the ultraviolet radiation it emits may also:

  • Burn your skin;
  • Injure your eyes (retinitis, pink eye, etc.);
  • Increase the risk of skin cancer;
  • Wrinkle your skin prematurely
  • Stimulate herpes flare ups;
  • Cause itching skin rash;
  • Shut down your immune system;
  • Cause brown spots, sagging of skin
  • Cause cataracts
  • Be lethalDETAILS
In addition to the effects of ultraviolet exposure, tanning equipment that is not properly maintained can contribute to*:
  1. Disease transmission or exacerbation;
  2. Electrical shock;
  3. Fires;
  4. Physical injury, such as falls, cuts or lacerations.

*Donald Nodler, of the Kentucky Radiation Control program stated in 1985 that over 20,000 tanning bed injuries occur each year nationwide.

In order to minimize the likelihood of injury when using tanning equipment you should:

  • Remember that the level of risk can vary substantially, subject to the level of committment of the salon owner(s). Since Alaska has no regulations for the tanning industry, the quality and relative safety of this procedure varies widely from one facility to another. Look for indication that the salon owner/operator is safety conscious, such as certification with the Smart Tan Association. Also, operators who have completed the industry minimum of six hours training will have certificates documenting training. The actions below will be normal procedure for the best facilities.
  • Always complete a medication history card to be reviewed by your physician and tanning operator. Many medications and some cosmetics significantly increase biological sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Most deaths that have occurred were due to failure to adequately consider the strong photosensitizing effects of medications. These include antiobiotics, blood pressure medications, birth control pills, diuretics, and some medications used for diabetes among others. Some cosmetics and foods also increase photosensitivity.
  • Medications are generally taken to treat a health problem. Be aware that certain health problems make it essential that tanning be avoided, such as lupus erythematosus, porphyrias, polymorphus light eruption, solar urticaria, xeroderma pigmentosum, rosacea, varix, lichen rubber, and others. Photosensitizing agents (FDA list, 1990) and Photosensitizers (Sunwellness list, 2000).
  • Always determine your skin type accurately so that the correct exposure time tables can be consulted to minimize skin damage. Looking Fit magazine is an excellent resource on tanning with useful information on skin typing as well.
  • Always use exposure time tables that are based on your skin type, and that are appropriate to the specific sun lamps used.
  • Look for a conspicuous notice posted near the equipment that indicates there are hazards associated with tanning, and read it.
  • Always start with short intervals, and build up exposure times slowly.
  • Always wear eye protection. Closing your eyes or using cotton balls is not enough protection. Eye protection is essential with both UVA and UVB type tanning devices.
  • Old lamps must be replaced according to manufacturers replacement schedule. Mis-matched lamps have been a significant source of UV injuries.
  • Inquire about the cleaning procedures used to clean equipment between clients. The UV from tanning lamps does not kill disease organisms.
  • Always use a fresh, clean towel when finished.
  • Not use a tanning machine if you sunburn easily and don’t tan. If you don’t tan in the sun, you probably won’t tan in a tanning bed or booth.
  • Not use tanning if you get frequent cold sores. Ultraviolet radiation may aggravate their appearance.
  • Never reset the timer to increase exposure times.
  • Never visit multiple facilities in order to repeat exposures on the same day.
  • Discourage tanning altogether if you are under a critical age. The greatest risk of injuries, including skin cancer, are in young people. Dermatologists say that the most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, probably arises due to childhood exposures(American Academy of Dermatology). Also, youngsters who are fidgety may not use eye protection properly, which increases the likelihood of serious eye injury in that age group. All responsible tanning salons will at least require a signed parental consent form for those under age 18, and will have an age limit below which they will not allow use of tanning equipment. Adults who tan should not allow their children in the tanning room while the equipment is operating.
  • Avoid direct contact with the lamps.
  • Do not wear outdoor sunscreen while using a tanning bed.
  • Do not use any equipment that is faulty, such as cracked shields or exposed electrical wiring.
  • Tanning is not recommended for pregnant women or infants.
  • Inquire about equipment sanitation, especially the cleaning procedures used between clients. A bed or booth may be exposed to body fluids, including saliva, urine, blood or fecal material, from a previous customer and equipment sanitation is essential to achieve safe use.
  • Be wary of salons that use live animals to create an interesting ambiance. If birds, reptiles, monkeys or other animals are present they can be sources of allergic reactions, salmonella, or other health risks.
  • Be aware that medical and homemade UV devices are not the same as tanning beds, and should never be used for tanning.
  • Report any injuries to the operator and/or manufacturer immediately after discovery. Follow up with a report to the Department of Health, which tracks reports of injuries.
  • Beware of facilities that claim that exposure to ultraviolet light, including tanning, is safe. This is contrary to U.S. Federal Trade Commission regulations.

Tanning Checklist

Tanning FAQ

Indoor tanning forums on the internet provide interesting and informative material that may be of value to those who want to tan as well as those who want to start a tanning business. Some of the popular boards may be found at Tanning Forums.

It is always a good idea to check yourself regularly for signs of skin cancer. There are several kinds of skin cancer, but the most deadly is malignant melanoma. Fortunately, it is also the least common form, and if it is caught early it is often curable.

These rules of safety apply whether you are using your own equipment at home, or visiting a commercial tanning facility. If the facility you visit does not provide instruction and guidance on all these items you should go to a facility that does.

  • Additional information on melanoma is available at several web locations, including:
  • In the event that you have concerns about possibly faulty equipment you may contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at 510-637-3960, Ext 22, or visit their web site at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

  • Fraudulent or deceptive advertising regarding safety of tanning should be referred to the Federal Trade Commission at 1 (877) 382-4357. The FTC web site is www.ftc.gov. Direct access to the on-line complaint form is at the Federal Trade Commission

  • The American Academy of Dermatology is located at:
    American Academy of Dermatology
    930 North Meacham Road
    P.O. Box 4014
    Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014
    American Academy of Dermatology

For additional information from the State of Alaska contact the Radiological Health Program.

Radiological Health Program
Section of State Laboratories
State of Alaska
5455 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.,
Department of Health/DH&SS
Anchorage, AK 99507

(907) 334-2100

Last reviewed/updated by webmaster: October 15, 2010.

© Created 1/18/2000 By Clyde E. Pearce