How Everything Works
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 353

Why are tanning beds not good for you; also there are some new ones recently that claim that they are safer than others (have no B rays)? Are they about the same as the sun itself or how much worse for you?
Tanning beds emit ultraviolet light in order to trigger your skin's tanning response. This ultraviolet light can and does cause chemical damage to your skin. Like all light, ultraviolet light is absorbed and emitted as particles. The energy in each light particle depends on its wavelength and, since ultraviolet light has short wavelengths, ultraviolet light particles carry lots of energy. They carry enough energy to rearrange the molecules that absorb them. If those molecules are part of the genetic information of a cell, the cell may die or, worse yet, may become cancerous. The shorter the wavelength of the ultraviolet light, the more energetic its particles and the more damage it can do. Tanning beds walk a narrow line between inducing tanning and causing significant damage. Leather skin is one end result of too much chemical damage. Tanning beds that emit relatively long wavelength ultraviolet are probably less harmful than those that emit shorter wavelength ultraviolet (these wavelength ranges are sometimes designated by letters A, B, and C...I think that A is the longest wavelength and least harmful). Still, you skin's tanning response is a defense against chemical damage and is probably not worth trying to trigger with light. Recent research seems to have found chemicals that trigger tanning. These chemicals mimic light-damaged molecules in your skin. Your skin senses these molecules and responds by tanning. If these chemicals work, you'll soon be able to develop a true tan without exposure to light.
         

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