Moderate sun exposure and phototherapy may help improve eczema. However, indoor tanning may not offer the same benefits as phototherapy and can significantly increase health risks, including skin cancer.

Phototherapy uses controlled wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light to treat skin conditions such as eczema. Indoor tanning with sunbeds involves uncontrolled exposure to high risk levels of UV light.

Although natural sunlight and phototherapy may improve eczema symptoms, indoor tanning can increase the risk of severe health complications, including skin cancer and exposure to harmful bacteria.

This article explains whether indoor tanning can help with eczema, the risks, tips for safe tanning, and when to contact a doctor.

Eczema resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and in-depth resources on eczema.

Was this helpful?
A person with eczema in a tanning bed.-2Share on Pinterest
tcsaba/Getty Images

More research is necessary to determine whether indoor tanning, with devices such as UV lamps and tanning beds, can help treat eczema.

However, some older research suggests that indoor tanning could help improve skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema.

A 2019 review suggests that low-level light therapy may effectively treat inflammatory skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

The review authors highlight that some people with psoriasis experienced improvements in symptoms after using tanning beds.

Evidence of the potential benefits of indoor tanning for eczema is inconclusive. However, it may be difficult for researchers to gather accurate evidence about indoor tanning for eczema because UV devices may emit different wavelengths of UV light.

Learn more about light therapy for psoriasis.

Types of UV light

The 2019 review suggests tanning beds may offer some benefits, including convenience, if phototherapy is unavailable. However, the UV light wavelengths are poorly defined and primarily UVA light.

Researchers associate shorter wavelength UVB light with many of the benefits of moderate sun exposure and UV treatments, such as phototherapy for eczema.

Moderate UVB exposure may benefit people with eczema by stimulating vitamin D production in the skin, which could help combat skin infections and strengthen the skin barrier. Exposure to UVA light does not increase vitamin D production.

While evidence for indoor tanning to treat eczema is inconclusive, researchers associate indoor tanning with significant health risks. Dermatologists and other healthcare professionals typically advise against indoor tanning.

Learn more about types of UV light therapy and the conditions it treats.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve indoor tanning equipment for anyone under 18 years of age and recommend certain precautions, such as a time limit, for anyone who does use them.

The FDA also requires all sunlamp tanning products to display a warning label.

In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission charged the Indoor Tanning Association with making false claims of the health benefits of indoor tanning, which science does not support.

Indoor tanning is not a safer alternative to natural sun exposure. UV exposure can also lead to sunburn, which can damage the skin barrier and worsen eczema.

Other risks of indoor tanning include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma: Tanning beds and sun lamps can increase a person’s risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, by 24%.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Indoor tanning increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, by 58%.
  • Melanoma: People who use tanning beds before the age of 20 years have a 47% higher risk of developing melanoma, an especially dangerous form of skin cancer.
  • Injury: Tanning beds frequently cause severe injuries, including burns, eye injuries, and injury from loss of consciousness.
  • Eczema flares: Heat, increased UV exposure, and sweating can trigger eczema flare-ups in some people.
  • Risk of infection: Some research suggests various types of bacteria exist in salon tanning beds. Someone with eczema may have cracked or broken skin, which could make it easier for bacteria to enter and cause infection.
  • Eye damage: People who use indoor tanning devices may have a higher risk of developing eye damage, such as ocular melanoma and cataracts.
  • Aging: Indoor tanning causes skin to age more rapidly and can cause a leathery skin texture, age spots, wrinkles, and loss of firmness.

Learn about the benefits and risks of UV radiation.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) supports banning indoor tanning equipment for nonmedical purposes.

Indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer. Some people may experience symptom improvements, but there is no reliable evidence that indoor tanning can treat eczema.

According to the AAD, people with eczema should avoid indoor tanning. However, a dermatologist can use phototherapy, which involves controlled exposure to UV light as part of eczema treatment.

Moderate sun exposure can help stimulate vitamin D production and may improve eczema symptoms in some people. Before spending time in the sun, a person should wear a topical sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protection.

They should apply their emollient at least half an hour before applying sunscreen, as the emollient may dilute the sunscreen. If a person uses emollient without sunscreen, it can result in a frying, sunburn effect.

Learn about UV light therapy for atopic dermatitis.

Other ways to achieve a tan

A doctor may recommend people with eczema use alternatives to indoor sunbeds, such as spray or fake tan, if they wish to achieve a tanned complexion.

However, some fake tan products may worsen eczema or trigger a flare-up. Before using any product, people should test it on a small area of their skin.

Fake tan may also appear patchy if a person applies it during a flare-up. The product may gather on thicker areas of skin where there are lesions.

To achieve an even-looking tan, an individual can moisturize and apply fake tan lightly to thick, dry areas of skin.

Learn how to tan safely and reduce risks.

A person with eczema can contact a doctor if the condition affects their daily life, is severe, or does not respond to home remedies or over-the-counter treatments.

A doctor may prescribe treatments such as:

A person should contact a doctor if they experience symptoms of heatstroke, severe sunburn, or skin damage from tanning, such as:

A person should also contact a doctor if they have symptoms of skin cancer.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about eczema and tanning.

Is phototherapy for eczema the same as a tanning bed?

Phototherapy and indoor tanning differ in many ways.

The FDA approves medical phototherapy devices, and experts consider the therapy a safe and effective treatment for eczema and other skin conditions. A dermatologist monitors the phototherapy process to minimize potential risks.

The FDA does not monitor indoor tanning, and dermatologists do not recommend it as safe because the process does not typically occur under medical supervision or regulation. Experts associate several serious health risks with indoor tanning.

Does vitamin D help eczema?

Vitamin D may help with eczema by strengthening the skin barrier and helping prevent infection. People can get vitamin D from sun exposure, certain foods, or supplements.

Dermatologists and skin care experts do not typically recommend indoor tanning to treat eczema. More research is necessary to determine whether it can help improve symptoms of the condition.

Some researchers suggest indoor tanning might help with eczema. Others suggest that indoor tanning devices are unlikely to improve symptoms, as they predominantly emit UVA, rather than UVB, light.

Researchers typically agree that indoor tanning poses health risks that outweigh the potential benefits. Studies associate indoor tanning with a significant increase in the risk of skin cancer and other health complications.