Indoor testicle tanning: Do they need protection, too?

Dear Alice,

Do men need to cover up their testicles when using indoor tanning facilities?

I use tanning booths regularly and I normally use only eye protection. I am slightly worried, however, that the UV radiation from the sunlamps could do internal damage to a man's testicles, because the skin is obviously only very thin and might not offer much protection against UV radiation. Since eyelids are similarly thin and it is known that eye damage can result even when using tanning equipment with closed eyes, I wonder if advice should be given to men to use similar precautions to prevent testicles being exposed to high-intensity UV-A or UV-B radiation. I have looked everywhere for scientific information on this matter but could not find anything. Your advice on this matter would therefore be very much appreciated.

Dear Reader,

Although exposure to UV rays has not been linked to any specific testicle problems (such as testicular cancer), it wouldn't hurt to protect your "beach bag" when you step out, or in, for a tan. As you mention, the skin on and around the scrotum is thin and delicate. It is also less pigmented than other areas of the body, and will be more susceptible to burning and damage — giving new meaning to the phrase "great balls of fire." So, for their sake and yours, if you're going to continue tanning indoors, you may not want to bare it all.

Tanning beds and salons use either shortwave (UVB) or longwave (UVA) ultraviolet (UV) rays to tan the skin. Exposure to either type of ultraviolet wave, either through indoor or outdoor tanning, can cause health problems over time or with overexposure, including:

  • Skin cancer
  • Eye damage, including injury to the retina, and cataracts
  • Skin damage, including premature aging and wrinkling of the skin, and dry leathery skin. UV rays can also thin the skin and weaken the connective tissue underneath that gives skin its elasticity and resilience.
  • Skin rashes, irritation, or depigmentation — certain foods and medications, such as birth control pills, antihistamines, and certain antibiotics, can make skin more sensitive to UV rays

Some experts believe that tanning salons may actually be riskier than outdoor tanning because the UV rays are more intense and keep the skin cool. Since indoor tanners don't get that "burning feeling" that comes from spending too much time in the sun, they may be more likely to over-do the baking, and have more health problems as a result. Be sure to limit your tanning time (by the clock) — indoors or out — to help avoid roasting your nuts, and other exposed body parts.

The amount of damage that UV rays do to your skin also depends on personal or genetic factors. The skin of children and young adults is more easily damaged by UV rays than that of older adults. People with darker skin (and more pigment) have more natural protection from UV rays than people with lighter skin (and less pigment). Exposure to UV rays can also weaken the immune system, making folks more susceptible to infection and disease. Certain medical conditions, such as lupus and diabetes, can be aggravated by UV exposure. People with a family history of skin cancer or cataracts need to talk about the possible consequences of tanning with their health care provider.

You're a wise man to consider the effects of tanning on your entire body, not just the areas that most often see the light of day.

Last updated Jul 22, 2015
Originally published Jun 28, 2002

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