|Fig. 1: UV Rays on the Electromagnetic Spectrum. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Tanned skin is idealized in American culture today, but at the risk of serious health issues. Skin cells are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation and respond by darkening themselves as protection from the exposure. Tanning beds artificially emit UV radiation similar to rays coming from the sun. People must proactively protect themselves from UV exposure whether natural or artificial, such as in tanning beds, to keep their skin cells healthy.  Despite society's pressures to look a certain way it is imperative that society reverses this beauty standard.
UVA (315-400 nm): These are the longest wavelengths and account for approximately 90 percent of the radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. UVA rays can cause sunburns and skin aging among other health risks. Most tanning equipment emits UVA rays because they are less likely to cause sunburn than UVB rays. This, however, does not guarantee that skin cells will not burn and is still dangerous. 
UVB (280-325 nm): UVB wavelengths are shorter than UVA and contribute most substantially to sunburns.  UVB accounts for the other 10 percent of rays that reach Earth's surface. These rays are heavily affected by the thickness of the ozone layer. Depending on where one is on the Earth's surface the higher the exposure to UVB rays. 
UVC (180-280 nm): The shortest wavelength of all are the UVC rays. They are the least dangerous to the skin because most of these rays are absorbed by the ozone, but the most harmful if they reach the skin. Although the World Health Organization advises against the use of tanning beds, it states that no tanning bed should emit a UVC. 
© Caroline Beaudoin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 "Tanning Salons Fact Sheet," Health Physics Society, January 2010.
 "Artificial Tanning Sunbeds Risks and Guidance," World Health Organization, 2003.