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Flutherit's avatar

Is the radiation from a tanning bed, Ionizing or Non-Ionizing?

Asked by Flutherit (52points) May 31st, 2011

I just heard on the news about cell phone radiation possibly causing brain cancer. The report says that the sun, tanning beds and x-rays have Ionizing radiation…
I have been recently told that tanning beds do not have the kind of radiation that is considered Ionizing…

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15 Answers

gasman's avatar

Tanning beds are health risks because of ultraviolet (uv) radiation, which is definitely ionizing. This means the photons have enough energy to break chemical bonds in skin molecules. If this happens to DNA then it could cause cancer by mutation.

This is way worse than cell phones, which emit high radio-frequency / low micro-wave photons that have no apparent effect other than to slightly heat the tissue. Ionizing radiation is known to damage tissue and cause cancer.

Today’s report says that closely-held mobile phones slight increases brain cell activity, which might somehow lead to cancer, though they emphasize there’s no actual evidence of a link.

Rarebear's avatar


Rarebear's avatar

@WasCy From your link: “Radiation on the short-wavelength end of the electromagnetic spectrum—high-frequency ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays—is ionizing, due to its composition of high-energy photons.”

Tanning booths are ultraviolet, which is ionizing.

Rarebear's avatar

@Flutherit And the reports of celphones causing brain cancer are hogwash. Celphones emit nonionizing radiation which cannot cause cancer.

WasCy's avatar


In a very technical sense, you are correct about UV, but if you followed the link for ultraviolet you’d see that those high-energy forms of UV don’t get to Earth through its atmosphere, and are not what is used in tanning booths.

Flutherit's avatar

@WasCy what exactly kind of uv is in tanning beds? How is it different?

dabbler's avatar

Yes for the wavelengths that are the same they make sunscreens for UVA/UVB, that’s why we use those sunscreens.

WasCy's avatar


Copied from the Wikipedia link above
Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, and energies from 3eV to 124 eV. It is named because the spectrum consists of electromagnetic waves with frequencies higher than those that humans identify as the color violet.

Although ultraviolet is invisible to the human eye, most people are aware of the effects of UV through the painful condition of sunburn, but the UV spectrum has many other effects, both beneficial and damaging, to human health.

UV light is found in sunlight and is emitted by electric arcs and specialized lights such as black lights. It can cause chemical reactions, and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Most ultraviolet is classified as non-ionizing radiation. The higher energies of the ultraviolet spectrum from about 150 nm (‘vacuum’ ultraviolet) are ionizing, but this type of ultraviolet is not very penetrating and is blocked by air.[1]

The UV in tanning booths is from the lower end of that spectrum and will (obviously) penetrate air, just as the lower energy UV rays from the Sun do.

Rarebear's avatar

@WasCy “that those high-energy forms of UV don’t get to Earth through its atmosphere,”

Speaking now as a physician and not a physics geek, if that were true, then why are there skin cancers from solar radiation? And if tanning booths damage skin enough to promote melanin development, how can you say they don’t damage the skin enough to cause skin cancer?

WasCy's avatar

I didn’t say that UV is not damaging or that people don’t get skin cancer from overexposure. The question was whether UV in tanning booths is “ionizing” radiation, which it is not.

As a physician, certainly you know that people contract cancer from all manners of exposures to all manners of substances. Tobacco, tobacco smoke and nicotine don’t create ionizing radiation, either, do they?

Rarebear's avatar

Tobacco, tobacco smoke and nicotine are not radiation so therefore the use of the terms “ionizing” and “nonionizing” are meaningless, but they are mutagens.

WasCy's avatar

Exactly. So non-ionizing UV radiation can be added to the list of mutagens.

Rarebear's avatar

Here is some information on Vanderbilt’s website about tanning beds. They’re dangerous.

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