Sunbeds and skin safety

Melanoma Focus strongly recommend that sunbeds are avoided. We urge the Government to ban all commercial sunbed advertising and commit to educating the public about the dangers of using sunbeds. We are committed to further research in this important area and we are currently part-funding some work based on the approach in Australia.

In 2009, The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified ultraviolet light emitted from tanning beds as carcinogenic, and placed artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation alongside tobacco and asbestos in the highest category of carcinogen [1].

It is estimated that, across the UK, sunbeds cause about 440 melanomas and around 100 deaths each year [2] [3].

Studies have found that first exposure to indoor tanning before age 35 years is associated with a 75% increased risk of developing skin cancer [4].

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third in the UK. Source: CRUK

Sunbeds increase your risk of getting melanoma:

Sunbeds emit high intensity UV radiation which can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to genetic changes and mutations.

This damage from UV exposure, particularly in younger skin, increases your risk of skin cancer over time. Your body may repair some of this DNA damage, however, the unrepaired damage and mutations may build up over time increasing your risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

A tan is a negative reaction to damaged skin cells that have been exposed to UV radiation.

Dangers of sunbeds:

There is evidence that sunbeds increase the risk of melanoma. They are dangerous because:

  • Many sunbeds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun
  • You cannot always see the damage UV rays cause and the symptoms of skin damage can take up to can take about 8-10 years to appear
  • It is estimated that in the UK about 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use [3].

Who is at risk?

Anyone who uses a sunbed is at risk of damaging their skin in the long run. The risk increases with skin type, so if you are fair, prone to burning or have many moles, your risk is likely to be higher.

The incidence is related to age, however, in contrast to most cancer types, melanoma also occurs relatively frequently at younger ages. In the 15-44 year age group, melanoma is the second most common cancer in males and the third most common cancer females [4]. 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use [3].

In the 20-24 year age group, melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in females [5].

100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use. Source: NHS

Did you know?

There is no mandatory licensing of sunbed outlets.

Across the UK it is now illegal for anyone under 18 to use a sunbed.

The Government’s Sunbed (Regulation) Act 2010

The main purpose of this act is to prevent the use of sunbeds under the age of 18 years The Welsh Assembly has the power to further regulate sunbeds in Wales, however, they have not exercised their powers. Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the Act.

Sunbeds Act May 2012 came into force in Northern Ireland

Our 2024 research found:

28% of people are using sunbeds in the UK

43% of 18-25 year olds are using sunbeds in the UK

Only 62% of people knowing that sunbed use increases the risk of skin cancer

52% of 18-25 year olds know that sunbed use increases the risk of skin cancer

23% of 18-25 year olds believe that sunbed use actually decreases the risk of skin cancer.

53%of sunbed users use them at least once per week.

 

Let’s bust some myths! 

We aim to bust some of the dangerous myths surrounding the perceived ‘benefits’ of sunbed usage.

“Using a sunbed before my holiday helps prevent sunburn”

MYTH!

There is a common misconception that using sunbeds before going on holiday will help prep your skin ready for the powerful sun abroad and therefore protect our bodies from sunburn.

This is untrue. Using a sunbed will NOT prevent your body from sunburn, but you can find many practical and SAFE ways here that you can protect your skin when enjoying the sun both at home and away.

Yellow sun umbrella

86% of melanoma cases are preventable

“Sunbeds are safer than sun-bathing”

MYTH

There is no such thing as a ‘safe tan’ when it comes to UV radiation.

The tan that your body gains from using a sunbed is a reaction from the damage caused in the skin cells from too much UV radiation exposure. The UV rays emitted by the sun and sunbeds are equally as dangerous to your skin.

If you really desire to have a tan, then the only safe way to do this is by getting a spray tan or using a self-tanning product. Unlike sunbeds these options do not cause long- lasting damage to the DNA in your skin cells, instead they just sit on the layer of your skin.

Remember having a spray tan or using fake tan does NOT protect your skin from the UV emitted by the sun.

Did you know that 86% of melanoma cases are preventable?

“I need to use a sunbed to gain Vitamin D”

MYTH!

Any Vitamin D you get from a sunbed is outweighed by the damage and harm caused to your skin.

There are many different foods that are a great source of vitamin D, such as red meats, salmon, sardines, and egg yolks.
During our colder seasons like Autumn and winter, you may also want to try taking a vitamin D supplement.

Throughout our warmer months of the year your body will naturally gain vitamin D through small and safe amounts of time in sunlight.

Learn more about Vitamin D

types of food with vitamin d in

Professor Catherine Harwood, Consultant Dermatologist and Melanoma Focus Trustee said: 

 

“We know that sunbed use is a significant risk factor for developing melanoma.

“Sunbeds emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which damages the DNA of skin cells leading to genetic mutations and other changes that can cause the growth of cancerous cells.

“It’s very concerning that so many young people are regularly using sunbeds, unaware of the long-term consequences to their health. It is crucial that people understand the dangers of sunbed use and protect their skin from excessive UV radiation to reduce the risk of developing melanoma.”

 

Georgia Edwards, age 26 from Surrey, was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 19. She said:

 

“I first went on a sunbed when I was 17 and then used them around four times a week for a year and half before being diagnosed with melanoma.

“It came as a massive shock. I had no idea of the risks of using sunbeds and it was something me and my friends were all doing regularly. I had to have major surgery and I’m still under observation to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned or spread.

“People think skin cancer only happens to older people after years of exposure to the sun but that’s not true.”

Melanotan

Melanotan is an artificial hormone that has not been tested for quality or safety and is not approved for human use.  It works by stimulating melanocytes (pigment producing cells) to produce more melanin which darkens the skin. It is either injected into the skin or inhaled up the nose. Melanotan mimics a natural hormone causing varied side-effects such as nausea and vomiting, muscle and kidney problems and there are concerns about increased risk of melanomas. Furthermore, it has been found by a BBC report (2022) that the products contain multiple impurities and we don’t know what further problems this can cause.

Melanotan is being promoted by social media influencers to achieve an accelerated tan. The illegal artificial hormone is illegal to sell in the UK.

Relevant References:

[1]In 2009, as a response to data highlighting the risks associated with indoor tanning, the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified ultraviolet light emitted from tanning beds as carcinogenic, and placed artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation alongside tobacco and asbestos in the highest category of carcinogen: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4929140/#:~:text=In%202009%2C%20as%20a%20response,ultraviolet%20radiation%20alongside%20tobacco%20and

[2]Sunbeds cause about 440 malignant melanomas each year – more than one a day – and just under one hundred deaths. https://news.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/27/sunbeds-cause-skin-cancer-the-evidence-is-clear/

[3]It is estimated that in the UK about 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/articles/sunbeds-policy

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913608/

[5] https://digital.nhs.uk/ndrs/data/data-outputs/ctya-uk-cancer-statistics-report-2021/cancer-incidence