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Vitamin D from tanning beds can be a safe and effective way of staying healthy and energetic each fall and winter. After years of thinking all tanning beds were dangerous, I learned how to tan safely — and why to avoid oral Vitamin D pills.
In this article, I also honestly look at the potential dangers of tanning beds (and one good alternative).
Why is Vitamin D necessary for human health
Very briefly, I want to hit on why Vitamin D is so important. Here are the key points:
- It modulates the immune system, to help protect us from viruses, bacteria and fungal infections.
- Vitamin D is a hormone that’s important in bone metabolism.
- There are a host of diseases associated with low Vitamin D levels, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, autoimmune diseases and mental health issues.
- Vitamin D increases the absorption of minerals in our GI tract. (No wonder I feel more energetic when I get sun exposure.)
- It activates T regulator cells to protect the intestinal lining. (I always have a healthy gut when we travel to sunny locations, amazing.) On a related note, it down-regulates the stressful cellular response mechanisms in many pathologic diseases, including autoimmune. (source)
- As we age, we need more sun or supplementation. The skin decreases in its ability to make Vitamin D3 from sunlight, so we need more of it.
- Vitamin D from sunlight raises HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol) by assisting the liver as it filters the body’s toxins, and as an outcome, improves heart health. This function also affects and prevents mental health issues. (source)
Why Vitamin D is SO important for autoimmunity
As someone who has had and put into remission 5 autoimmune diseases and a bladder disease, I am very familiar with triggers and healing mechanisms.
This is my favorite paragraph to write for you because I want everyone to understand the basic science behind getting the sun’s UVB rays and getting well, or preventing sickness.
Leaky gut predisposes us to the development of autoimmunity. Scientists and doctors are now seeing that leaky gut may be due to a lack of bacteria allowing UV (ultraviolet) and IR (infrared) light to our enterocyte cells, to activate the innate immune system.
Optimal levels of Vitamin D are linked to tighter junctions between the enterocytes of our intestinal lining.
When the gut is less leaky, our immune system is stronger. Instead of being activated constantly, our immune system can play a surveillance role in our GI tracts.
It is a strong theory that Vitamin D made from sunlight is a key helper against a range of autoimmune illnesses.
I have experienced this myself and love better understanding the hows and whys.
Is oral Vitamin D safe? Why to avoid Vitamin D pills
Most Americans who try to be healthy, or go to the doctor, now take high dose Vitamin D pills. I used to, too.
In fact, recently I went to the dermatologist for a routine examination of my many moles, and she said to me: “Remember, get as little sun exposure as possible, use sunscreen, and take your Vitamin D pills each day.”
She stated this passionately as basic medical advice that everyone should assume, follow; … and, she had zero doubt in its wisdom.
This is not surprising considering The American Academy of Dermatology website, which states it “appalling” that “anyone in good conscience could make the claim that intentional sun exposure – for any length of time – is beneficial.”
Friends, let us learn from this study: The farther away from the equator we are, where the sun is strongest, skin cancer rates are HIGHER.
And, melanoma is higher among those who use sunscreen. (source)
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people to have normal plasma D levels from supplements and still have low vitamin D activity. This can happen more often for those with hypothyroidism or high cortisol levels. (source)
Vitamin D pills are hormone pills
Several years ago, I learned that oral Vitamin D is a hormone, not a vitamin.
The reason is: it is not an essential dietary factor. Rather, it is a prohormone produced photochemically in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol. Prohormones are substances that the body converts to a hormone. (source)
By taking this hormone orally, we are doing for the body what the body should be doing for itself. And, we are not addressing underlying issues of why the body is not able to.
How is Vitamin D made by the body
To make vitamin D in the body, there must be cholesterol from the liver. The body then provides biophotonic light energy, and the sun needs to provide UV light.
The body keeps making more cholesterol in its demand for more Vitamin D, and in this way, cholesterol will go higher when vitamin D is depleted.
Additionally, low vitamin D often indicates that the body is low in its cholesterol-dependent hormones.
This is one reason it is dangerous for doctors to try and lower patients’ cholesterol levels; 75% of the cholesterol made in the body is used to make our hormones: progesterone, pregnenolone, estrodiol, testosterone, aldosterone, cortisol, Vitamin D, bile and more. (source)
When our cholesterol levels are lowered by medications, so are many of the hormones that allow us to thrive. And then we’re given oral Vitamin D, instead of the light, that allows our bodies to make this prohormone.
Do Vitamin D supplements have the same benefits as UVB rays
When taking oral Vitamin D, I realized that I had issues each winter that went completely unaffected by those pills: mood, energy and thyroid function — issues I didn’t have each summer.
I needed the sun, not a pill that raised my blood Vitamin D levels.
Lastly, Vitamin D supplements deplete potassium. Unnatural supplementation causes imbalance in the body.
(Granted, if someone can not get UVB rays, supplementation of Vitamin D may be better than going without completely.)
Why tanning beds provide Vitamin D
Not all tanning beds provide Vitamin D.
Most tanning salons consider their UVA beds the best for creating a tan. And they’ll tell you that the less expensive UVB beds can burn you more easily.
In fact, the UVB beds are the ones that provide Vitamin D, and used for short periods of time, burning need not be an issue.
It only requires about 5 minutes inside a tanning bed for the body to utilize the UVB rays and create sufficient vitamin D (for one to several days), depending on a person’s needs.
Therefore, you do not actually need to tan your skin or overexpose it to the rays to get the needed amount of Vitamin D.
When Vitamin D from tanning beds is safe
Skip the chemicals in lotions
It can be confusing when we hear doctors talk about the dangers of the sun or tanning beds. Part of the reason for the confusion? Sunscreens and suntan lotions themselves contain dangerous chemicals.
So any data we have on the dangers of UVB light, the kind that enables the body to produce Vitamin D, comes from testing that did not include a control category of users who did not also use sunscreen.
While we can be sure that many sunscreens cause cancer, we can’t be sure to what degree the sun alone or tanning beds do. But we can be sure of the benefits.
Therefore, skip any lotions used for tanning, and see the Tips below for alternatives.
Avoid skin burns
We all know that sunburns aren’t healthy — from the sun or from a tanning bed.
Avoid getting burned.
Most salons require newcomers to start at 5 minutes or less. And customers may only increase their time incrementally each day, after 24 hours or more of a break. There is also a maximum time of 15 minutes allowed.
Tanning salons do not want you to burn.
Thankfully, there is scientific data on the benefits seen from use of UVB tanning beds.
As one study states,
… the novel use of UVB tanning beds that emits vitamin D – producing ultraviolet radiation is associated with higher 25(OH) D concentrations and thus may have a benefit for the skeleton, according to a study from the Boston University School of Medicine. However, even with conventional tanning beds, one study showed that subjects who used regular tanning bed had serum 25(OH)D concentrations 90% higher than those of control subjects (P < 0.001), had parathyroid hormone concentrations 18% lower than those of control subjects (P = 0.01), and had significantly higher bone mineral density than non-tanners. (sources 1, 2)
Why are tanning beds dangerous
For the skin to synthesize Vitamin D, it requires the B spectrum of ultraviolet rays.
The sun releases both A and B bands of ultraviolet rays. The damaging part of sunlight can be the ultraviolet A band.
When tanning, we need to seek out a bed that is B-band dominant.
Tanning beds may be dangerous for those who use the UVA beds, if they burn or use the beds as much as possible for long intervals.
You can interview the operator of a tanning salon and ask for the types of rays emitted by the machines before using them. Most tanning salons have a variety of machines to choose from, to suit their users’ needs.
The other main issue to be concerned about with tanning beds is the potential EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure.
I am particularly sensitive to EMFs. I can’t even hold my phone in my hand without it causing discomfort.
Surprisingly, I have no noticeable side effects from the tanning bed I use at Tan Republic. But this doesn’t mean I’m not exposed to EMFs. Certainly, I am.
When shopping around for a tanning bed that’s right for you, look for low pressure, electronic ballast sunbeds, which emit fewer EMFs.
In fact, this kind of tanning bed emits significantly less radiation than one’s phone.
Why I tan despite the EMF exposure
There are four reasons I continue to use the bed, despite the potential risk of EMFs:
- I can ground before and after tanning, and this offsets the risk of EMF exposure.
- I only tan 2 to 3 times weekly, for 5 to 8 minutes each time. And you can tan as little as 1 time weekly for basic Vitamin D needs.
- This level of exposure is actually very similar to or less than other exposure we get on a daily basis. So with grounding, we are not heaping a huge amount of EMFs into our bodies.
- For me, the benefits outweigh the risk: I feel WAY better when I tan: a lot more energy, no thyroid issues in the winter (when I usually dip) and a good, consistent mood. And, I feel no ill effects from EMFs which can be noticeable for sensitive individuals.
Tanning beds have come a long way in recent years. Electronic ballast sunbeds emit very little radiation.
Vitamin D sun lamps instead of tanning
A great alternative to tanning for Vitamin D is to purchase or use a sun lamp designed to provide Vitamin D.
Recently, I decided to buy a sun lamp. We need this resource at home for my whole family, so it just made more sense. I purchased a Sperti brand Sunlamp. Sperti is the most reputable manufacturer of sun lamps for Vitamin D.
The lamp allows you to conveniently provide your body with Vitamin D from home for just 5 minutes every other day. The price is affordable more many, they do offer sales, and/or you can save up for one.
I ended up choosing their Fiji lamp because its’ broad spectrum rays are more similar to the sun’s, than their 85% UVB Vitamin D lamp. Feel free to ask questions about this in the Comments section below.
Interestingly, this product is in such high demand that they only allow one per customer.
Sperti also sells a unit that treats psoriasis.
In the meantime, tanning at a local salon is very affordable and easy to weave into one’s schedule.
Tips for tanning safely
- Drink plenty of water before and after tanning.
- Consider supplementing with Magnesium, if you don’t already, as it’s a co-factor for Vitamin D no matter what. Vitamin K2 is also a co-factor that can be obtained through food or supplementation.
- A good protein diet with healthy cholesterol natural foods helps to maintain optimum Vitamin D levels.
- Use castor oil on your skin directly before tanning to keep the process gentle and effective. Natural oil does not make you tan more quickly; but, importantly, it hydrates your skin. (Other oil options include: magnesium lotion, refined jojoba oil or kokum butter mixed with another oil.)
- Avoid all the tanning lotions out there, especially the ones the salons try to sell you. There is a major profit margin on them, and they’re filled with dangerous chemicals.
- Too much UV radiation can cause skin burns. Tan for as little as 5 minutes at a time, especially when starting out, to avoid burning.
- Tan for as little as 5 minutes once a week if you’re concerned about EMF exposure. Choose an electronic ballast sunbed.
- Ground before and/or at least after tanning, if and when possible. Grounding does not have to include putting your bare feet on the earth or getting in the ocean (although those are the best ways to ground). You can also snuggle with your pet or a favorite human.
- Always choose the UVB-dominant tanning bed. UVA has more harmful rays, and the UVB is what provides Vitamin D. The bed I use provides 60% UVB and 40% UVA. Look for that kind of a percentage. UVA is not all bad, though. In moderation, it is necessary and confers some benefits. But the ratio of higher UVB is what you want for all the pros.
Additional benefits of tanning: winter mood and stress reduction
The main reasons I tan are:
- for vitamin D
- and my mood! ~ How powerful is the tanning bed for me each winter? In just 8 minutes or less of tanning, I can go from high-stress or sad to feeling happy and well for days. I want to emphasize here, not just the happy-sad part, which I know is a little more discussed, but the stress part. Sometimes those of us with autoimmune issues can feel experiences as stressful that would not be to someone else. One minute, we’re feeling fine, and the next minute, everything feels really intense and stressful. Our body has gone into fight or flight without our consent. Tanning puts my body back into the rest and digest state, so much so that my stomach often gurgles while I’m tanning, as it promotes digestive processes. This gift of being returned to a parasympathetic state is very important for avoiding or healing autoimmunity. There is perhaps no greater trigger for autoimmunity than stress … and the absence of Vitamin D! Tanning beds can resolve both those causes for a mere $50 a month (or less)! This is one cheap and enjoyable solution for getting well and staying well.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!
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Emmaline MacBeath says
Do the home UVB sun lamps work the same? Such as this one at Amazon? https://amzn.to/3pPMJNU I’ve been considering buying one of these.
Hi Emmaline, thanks for the great question. I do think that’s a great option! 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to write this. Very informative and helpful. I have a sperti lamp but haven’t used it for a couple of years because I didn’t notice the difference. I’ll pull it out again.
Great, Clarissa. It looks like they just raised their prices significantly, so I’m glad you already own one. Thanks, and I’m so glad the post is helpful!
I just ran across your article and am so impressed with the information. I am 42 years old and have suffered all my life from psoriasis. I could never ever figure out why it doesn’t flare in the summertime but it gives me terrible symptoms in the winter. I knew it had something to do with sun, but was thinking more along the lines of maybe the sun dries it up or something. I’ve been to derms for years who all put me on cream or want to put me on oral meds for it but it’s not severe enough, and only on my scalp. I am a health nut and have recently been having some hormone issues so decided to do a deeper yearly hormone panel than I normally do each year due to some other symptoms I’m having that are hormonal. I was floored to find my D levels are very low. I run outside in the summer and cycle indoors in the winter. I’ve been taught to avoid sun exposure at all costs and have listened for several years. I’m now sitting here wondering if my D levels could affect my psoriasis flare ups. WOW! Thank you so much for this amazing read!
Hi Mandy, great to hear that this might be a helpful method for you. A lot of tanning beds now offer red light therapy as well, included if you do a monthly package. (I pay $42 monthly, but last year even got a deal for $25 monthly.) Both the UVB rays and the red light therapy could be used for psoriasis, as well as the UVB rays helping vitamin D levels. 🙂
La Danya Nelson says
Could you share what bad you are using? I would like to order that same bed with the red light in the UVB but I don’t know where to find one.
Hi there, do you mean what bed I use at the tanning salon?
Thanks for this article! Do you consider tanning beds safe for pregnant women? I’d appreciate your thoughts!
Hi Mary-Kate, you’re welcome. I’m sorry, but I don’t know. Probably best to skip, to be on the safe side. There is no way to test this, really.
Hi. Why did you choose the Fuji lamp. Does the Fuji lamp raise vitamin D at all? Thanks.
Hi SD, good question. Yes, the Fiji does raise vitamin D levels also. I chose it because its rays more accurately mimic the sun’s rays which to me seemed more natural than buying the lamp that has just isolated UVB rays. I like the broader spectrum rays, personally, but both should raise D levels.
Could you tell me more about why you chose the Fiji over the Vitamin D lamp?
Hi Theresa, yes. The Fiji is more similar, or mimics, the sun’s actual rays and the variety of rays the sun provides. I prefer to mimic nature, because we don’t understand all the subtleties of how the world works and why the complexities of it are present. With the D lamp, just the UVB ray has been isolated, which is not how it is in nature. I believe both will show effective in labs for bringing up D levels.
Hi. I read your article and was very informative. Went to check out the “Fiji” sunlamp you mentioned. You noted that it was a “broad spectrum” lamp but on the website it only mentions this
“4 special UVA bulbs with a 1000 hour bulb life”
Nowhere, on the site, can I find any info about broad spectrum for this lamp or anything that mentions UVB rays. Maybe I missed it. Any more info about this lamp is greatly appreciated. Thank you
Hi Mark, happy to help. Even though the bulbs are listed as UVA, I’ve communicated with Sperti, and they do emit some UVB, although the company itself has not tested the amount the machine raises vitamin D levels. We want both rays, so their UVB vitamin D lamp isn’t as good of an option, IMO. By getting both UVA and UVB, we’re giving our bodies the rays it needs to convert UVB into vitamin D, and UVA helps oxidize retinols. My levels haven’t been tested in a while, so that would be a great piece to add to the article, especially after a winter of using the Fiji lamp. For now, I only have testimonies of those I know who have, use and feel the benefits of the Fiji, as well as Dr. Smith’s recommendation to choose the Fiji.
Thank so much for your article. I have been searching for a UVB dominate bed or booth. I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis that it would take too long with the small Sperti. I have the Figi. Can you recommend a booth?
Great, Charlotte; I hope you have good success with your psoriasis. I use Tan Republic; is that what you mean by recommending a booth? They had different UVB booths/lamps in different rooms, and I tried them all out. I ended up with a favorite, as there were slight variations. (Also, have you experimented at all with zinc supplementation for your psoriasis? You might consider getting a hair mineral analysis and look at copper toxicity.)
Hi! Thank you so much for this – I was looking for low EMF tanning bed options but love the idea of the tanning lamp. Is the Sperti Fiji Tanning Lamp low EMF as well? Looking to raise MSH levels and think this might be the perfect option for CIRS.
Hi Wesley, I assume it is, but your question makes me realize that I don’t know any details about it myself, so I sent them an email. I’ll respond here again as soon as I hear back. Thanks for the great question!
Hi again, Sperti wrote me back: “The EMF output is not part of our standard testing. However, we have heard from customers that have personally tested the EMF output and found that it was extremely low.” Woot! As expected, but nice to know more.
I tried the Sperti lamp and it did not make me feel good like the tanning bed does. One really big concern that you didn’t mention is the strong fragrances used in tanning salons. Fragrance contains hundreds of, known-to-be-toxic, and potentially toxic ingredients, including carcinogens, immune toxins, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. Fragrance is my #1 MS trigger. I use gym tanning beds to avoid the strong fragrance but there is still some level of fragrance. I wear a mask to protect my self. But it is better than using a salon where I would walk out smelling like I was doused in perfume. Another issue is that UV light in isolation isn’t as good for the body as full spectram light from the sun and can have consequences, like mitochondrial dysfunction, if over-used. It is always better to use UV light with at least red light. Planet Fitnes has a “hybrid” tanning bed, that uses both UV and red light together. Red light has been shown to protect from UV skin damage and cancer and its presence is the reason that the sun is not dangerous like tanning beds are. It cost $24/mo to use planet Fitnes hybrid beds or booths plus you have access to their massage beds and their red light booth which has a shake plate to move lymph and help the body remove toxins among other benefits.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Emily. Red light is great at removing toxins from local tissues. Do you have a PubMed link to the red light protecting against UV damage? The hybrid sounds like a good option. The tanning beds I used did not have a fragrance, as I have a chemical sensitivity as well.
Megan, Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve done a little research on UVA/UVB bulbs for reptiles. Do you have any thoughts on those being used on humans for vitamin D and tanning? They are much cheaper and easily accessable.
Looking forward to your reply!
Hi AJ, fun that you should ask because I not only recently wrote an article on the topic that details how and what, I just set up my dad’s system a couple of days ago! 🙂 So here’s everything you need, and then let me know if you have further questions: https://eatbeautiful.net/how-to-use-reptile-lamp-vitamin-d-winter-light/ I ended up with the 100W bulb for him, so I’m still establishing the exact best amount of time and distance from the bulb with that wattage. The article gives those specifics for 160W bulb, but availability varies. Overall, yes, I think it’s a great option! I love that it provides warmth, like a tanning bed, and unlike the Sperti lamp. Our bodies do produce vitamin D and detox better with the combination of rays and warmth, as in nature.