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Is it OK to Tan Before a Vacation?

Feeling pale? Our expert warns against visiting a tanning salon before jetting off to a sunny locale.

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Q: After months of hiding under huge sweaters, my skin is looking pretty pasty. Would it be OK to visit a tanning salon just this once, before my beach vacation? The people at my local spa say their equipment is safer than the sun.

A: Don't do it! No matter what claims salon owners make, tanning beds are bad news. The equipment uses bulbs that produce mostly UVA, a type of radiation that spurs pigment production by damaging skin's deeper layers. Though less likely to cause red surface burns than UVB radiation— another type emitted by the sun—UVA sharply increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Several years ago, the World Health Organization classified tanning beds as human carcinogens. If you feel your skin is looking less than radiant, my first suggestion is to start using a gentle body scrub or splurge on a microdermabrasion session to boost luminosity and eliminate flakiness. Well-cared-for skin is beautiful in every shade! But if you really prefer a sun-kissed look, stick to a self-tanning lotion or spray.

Heidi Waldorf, M.D., director of laser and cosmetic dermatology, Mount Sinai Medical Center, and associate clinical professor of dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City.

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