The truth about indoor tanning: are tanning beds harmful even if I use them only once in a while? … and more of your questions answered here – Beautyq+a

Q Can tanning beds damage my skin even if I use them only once a week? I hate being so pale during the winter.

A Stay away from tanning beds at all costs, says David Goldberg, M.D., director of Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of New York & New Jersey and vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. The bulbs in tanning beds emit primarily ultraviolet-A (UVA) rays, which typically don’t cause the burning triggered by UVB rays (something tanning salons often will tout as a “benefit”), but these rays have been linked to skin cancer and wrinkles. “If you go to a suntan salon only once in your life, it’s not going to harm you,” Goldberg says. “But it’s clear that more exposure is worse. No one has a crystal ball for the damage threshold. But the lighter your skin is to begin with, the more likely you are to have problems.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set recommended limits for the maximum length of time you should spend in tanning salons (it’s based on skin type), but most people who visit them ignore these limits, says Robin L. Hornung, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of pediatrics and dermatology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

In a recent study of 483 subjects at 50 tanning centers in North Carolina, Hornung found that 95 percent of those studied stayed in tanning beds longer than the FDA exposure schedule recommends, and more than one-third set the timers to the longest exposure time on their first day of tanning. Hornung adds that the consensus among dermatologists today is that any tanning-bed exposure is too much. What’s more, she says, the rays–both UVA and UVB–emitted from the tanning booths at the tanning centers studied in North Carolina were stronger than she expected: “There are surprisingly high doses coming from these beds–far more than a typical summer’s noonday sun.” (For more information on the FDA’s advice on tanning beds, go to

A common reason that people “fake bake” is to get some color. If you don’t like your pale skin, Goldberg says, use a self-tanner. Editor’s picks: Neutrogena Instant Bronze Tinted Sunless Tanner for the Face ($10; at drugstores) and Estee Lauder Go Bronze Plus Tinted Self-Tanner For Body ($25; If you want an instant glow without self-tanning, try Ramy Sun Smooched! Bronzer for the face ($32; or BeneFit Flamingo Fancy shimmering body slip ($20; benefit Also, many salons and spas now offer airbrush tanning, which uses airbrush jets to apply an even layer of self-tanner over your entire body in minutes (check out or for locations). Remember that using a self-tanner or bronzer does not protect your skin from the sun, so you’ll need to apply plenty of sunscreen as well; choose one with a minimum of SPF 15.–Suzanne Schlosberg

Q Can the glycolic acid in skin-care products be harmful? I’ve heard that this exfoliator can thin the skin, making it extremely sensitive.

A Much like any ingredient in a skin-care product, glycolic acid–an exfoliating agent derived from sugar cane and used in everything from skin cleansers to peels-could potentially make the skin sensitive if it were abused (getting or giving yourself too-frequent peels, for example), explains dermatologist Lynn McKinley-Grant, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at The George Washington University/Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. As is commonly advised in skin care, to avoid irritation you must use products in moderation and adhere to the directions for proper application (including how often to use a product, which is no more than twice a day for those with glycolic acid and no more than once or twice a month for glycolic peels).

When used correctly, glycolic acid can provide gentle exfoliation that reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and makes skin more radiant. (That’s because glycolic acid helps to slough off dulling dead cells, which can contribute to clogged pores, from the outermost layer of the skin.)

Since unprotected exposure to the sun on newly exfoliated skin can trigger a sunburn and irritation, daily sunscreen or an SPF-laden moisturizer is a must. Editor’s picks: Nu Skin Moisture Restore Day Protective Lotion SPF 15 ($29.90; or Neutrogena Intensified Day Moisture SPF 15 for dry skin ($10.49; at drugstores).

Sun protection is also critical if you get a glycolic peel at a dermatologist’s office or a spa. These peels use a higher concentration of acid for more powerful exfoliating action (while over-the-counter products contain 10 percent or less, professional peels will use anywhere from 10-70 percent, depending on who’s administering it–a doctor or an aesthetician).–Kate Williams

Send your questions to Shape, Beauty Q & A, One Park Ave., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10016; fax to (212) 725-9228; e-mail to BeautyQ &

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