Sunbeds and skin safety

Melanoma Focus believes the public should be better informed about the dangers sunbeds present. We aim to bust some of the dangerous myths surrounding the perceived ‘benefits’ of sunbed usage.

Did you know that since 2009 the commercial use of sunbeds in Brazil has been banned, and since 2015 they have been banned in Australia? Both of these decisions were made by leaders to protect the health of their countries citizens. There has been ongoing petitions for the same ban to be enforced in, but yet we have seen little change.

a sunbed

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK. Source: CRUK

How do sunbeds increase your risk of getting melanoma?

Sunbeds emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which lead to genetic defects and mutations which can cause skin cancer.

Damage from UV exposure 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.

Is it certain that sunbeds are bad for you?

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
  • Researchers have assessed the cancer risk from sunbeds as twice that of an equivalent period spent out in the tropical sun
  • You cannot always see the damage UV rays cause and the symptoms of skin damage can take up to 20 years to appear
  • Many sunbeds are faulty, emitting UV at levels higher than British and EU standards
  • It is estimated that in the UK about 100 people die each year from melanomas that are due to sunbed use

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 and there is a large increase in incidence (7-8 fold) in the 15-24 year age group.

In the 15-44 year age group melanoma is the second most common cancer in males and the third most common cancer in females.

Skin cancers were the most commonly diagnosed cancers in females aged 15-24 in the UK from 2016-18. Source: CRUK

Did you know that across the UK it is now illegal for anyone under 18 to use a sunbed?

Find out more details about the Government’s Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010.

Can using a sunbed before a holiday help prevent sunburn?

No. There is a myth 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

Are sunbeds safer than sun-bathing?

No, and 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?

Do I need to use a sunbed to gain Vitamin D?

No, 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.

Find out more about Vitamin D.

types of food with vitamin d in


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.