Can You Get Vitamin D from Tanning Beds?

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
woman in solarium

Since tanning beds give you color like the sun does, you might be wondering if hitting the tanning bed is another way to get in your daily dose of vitamin D during cold, cloudy winter months. Learning more about the link between tanning beds and vitamin D will help you determine if turning to tanning beds is a good idea.

Tanning Beds for Vitamin D: Does It Work?

The answer to whether or not you can get vitamin D from tanning beds -- is yes! A 2013 study published in Dermato Endocrinology reports an adult in a bathing suit exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds equates to ingesting about 20,000 IUs of vitamin D2, and tanning bed exposure can be a source of UVB radiation that improves blood levels of 25(OH) vitamin D. This form of vitamin D is the active form your body can use.

Authors of this review say a 75-year-old man (older adults are at higher risk for vitamin D deficiency) exposed to a tanning bed (that emitted UVB radiation) three times weekly for seven weeks increased his blood vitamin D from a low level to a healthy range.

Your body produces vitamin D from UVB radiation, says the Skin Cancer Foundation. Many tanning beds produce primarily UVA radiation or combinations of UVA plus UVB radiation, but some tanning beds are a source of mainly UVB radiation.

How Much UVB Exposure Do You Need?

Your body will begin producing vitamin D from UVB tanning bed exposure within minutes (even if your skin doesn't produce a tan), says the Vitamin D Council. In fact, less is better to avoid the potential health risks of tanning in beds. The Vitamin D Council recommends taking in just half of the UVB tanning bed exposure needed to cause your skin to burn.

Tanning Bed Health Risks

Tanning beds come with health risks, so use them with caution despite the fact they're a source of vitamin D for your body. One 2010 review published in Dermatologic Therapy says tanning beds boost your risk for skin cancer, and many beds emit mostly UVA rather than UVB radiation which means your body isn't getting the radiation needed to produce significant amounts of vitamin D.

Tanning beds can also lead to sunburn, premature aging, wrinkles, and freckles from UV skin damage. Eye damage is also a concern if you don't properly protect your eyes during tanning bed use. UVB tanning beds may be safer than UVA beds, but more research is needed.

Are All Tanning Beds the Same?

As previously discussed, all tanning beds are not created equal, especially when it comes to getting vitamin D-creating UVB exposure. The Vitamin D Council suggests using low-pressure beds containing UVB light instead of high-intensity UVA light, as UVB is the main type of radiation needed for your body to produce the active form of vitamin D.

Getting Enough Vitamin D -- Recommendations

If you're worried about getting enough vitamin D or are deficient in vitamin D, the Vitamin D Council has the following recommendations (instead of hitting tanning beds):

  • Take in 5,000 IUs (but no more than 10,000 IUs) of vitamin D daily from foods and vitamin D supplements.
  • Have your doctor test your blood vitamin D levels every three months.
  • Take supplemental vitamin D3 instead of D2.
  • Get some outdoor sun exposure a few days each week.

Using Tanning Beds as A Vitamin D Source

Chances are, you don't need to hit tanning beds to get in your daily vitamin D dosage. Most doctors don't recommend getting vitamin D from tanning beds due to increased skin cancer risks, and the fact you can get all the vitamin D you need from foods, vitamin D supplements, and periodic outdoor sunlight exposure. But if you have a skin condition (such as psoriasis), check with your doctor to see if UVB treatment is a good match for you.

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Can You Get Vitamin D from Tanning Beds?