A quarter of Scottish adults are using sunbeds as skin cancer rates rise.

  • New research shows that a quarter of Scottish adults use sunbeds and many don’t realise they increase the risk of skin cancer. 
  • Melanoma skin cancer is on the rise in the UK and around 100 deaths per year are linked with sunbed use.
  • 26% of adults in Edinburgh and 24% of those in Glasgow use sunbeds.

New data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus has found that 28% of adults in the UK, and a quarter of those in Scotland, say they use sunbeds. Across the UK it rises to 43% of 18-25 year olds. [1][2]

The research shows that sunbed use is alarmingly high across the UK but that Belfast is the ‘sunbed capital’ with 37% of adults in the city reporting using sunbeds. This compared to 26% of respondents in Edinburgh and 24% in Glasgow. [3][4]

The charity, along with medical experts, has expressed serious concerns about the high usage of sunbeds and its impact on the rising number of skin cancer cases across the country. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, kills 2,300 people in the UK per year.[5]

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.[6]

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK and it is estimated that, across the country, sunbeds cause about 440 melanomas and around 100 deaths each year. It’s also on the rise in Scotland and there are now 1,345 new cases every year.[7][8][9][10][11]

The new research found that public awareness of the dangers of sunbed use is low with only 62% of people in the UK (and 66% of those in Scotland) knowing that sunbed use increases the risk of skin cancer.  This dropped to 52% of 18-25 year olds, very worryingly 23% of whom believe that sunbed use actually decreases the risk of skin cancer. [12]

The high use and lack of awareness of the dangers in younger people is a particular concern as studies have found that first exposure to indoor tanning before age 35 years is associated with a 75% increased risk of developing skin cancer.[13]

Visits to tanning salons are frequent for UK sunbed users with 74% saying they use sunbeds at least once per month, and 53% using them at least once per week. This was slightly lower in Scotland at 73% and 44% respectively.[14[15]

Susanna Daniels, CEO of Melanoma Focus, said:

“The proliferation of sunbed use across the UK is alarmingly high and it’s shocking that so many people don’t realise how dangerous they are. 

“Melanoma skin cancer rates are rising in the UK and it’s an increasingly serious health concern. The good news is that 86% of melanomas are preventable by avoiding ultraviolet radiation, which comes from the sun or from sunbeds.

“We strongly advise against using sunbeds in order to protect your skin and reduce your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma or other skin cancers.”

Adele Hughes, aged 44 from Aberdeenshire, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2019. She said:

“I started using sunbeds when I was 16. Looking back, it was awful that I was allowed to use them as a schoolchild and without being warned about the risks. Whenever I had a big event like a party coming up, I would use them intensely, maybe 4 or 5 times a week. And I used to think it would protect my skin from the sun by giving me a ‘base-tan’. 

“In my 30s I had a skin check and the dermatologist found moles on my chest, back and stomach which turned out to be melanomas. It was a horrible shock. The cancer then spread into my lymph nodes and I had to have six surgeries and immunotherapy for 14 months, it was absolutely horrendous. I had two small children at the time which made the whole experience even more terrifying. I wish I could tell my 16-year-old self not to go near sunbeds. Having a tan is not worth risking your life for.” 

Mr Kaz Rahman, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at NHS Grampian and Clinical Lead for Skin Cancer for the North Cancer Alliance, said: 

“It’s important to recognise the dangers associated with using sunbeds. The ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted from sunbeds can be stronger than those from the sun and prolonged exposure can lead to damage of skin cell DNA. 

“Your body may repair some of this DNA damage, however, the unrepaired cells and mutations may build up over time increasing your risk of skin cancer including melanoma which can be deadly.

“As a clinician who works with melanoma patients, I’m very concerned to see how many people in Scotland are using sunbeds and that so many of them are unaware of the health risks involved.”

ENDS

#MelanomaAwarenessMonth

#KnowYourSkin 

[1]27.69% of all survey respondents said they are using sunbeds. This is shown in a combination of the following responses to Q6: ‘I have used sunbeds in the past – and continue to use them’ (18.87%) and ‘I have not used sunbeds in the past – and have now begun using them’ (8.82%). A further 21.24% have stopped using sunbeds and 51.06% have never used them. In Scotland, 25.18% said they currently used sunbeds.

[2]42.63% of 18-25 year olds said they are using sunbeds, the highest of any age group.This is shown in a combination of the following responses to Q6: ‘I have used sunbeds in the past – and continue to use them’ (28.06%) and ‘I have not used sunbeds in the past – and have now begun using them’ (14.57%).

[3]36.56% of respondents from in or near Belfast said they currently use sunbeds. This is shown in a combination of the following responses to Q6: ‘I have used sunbeds in the past – and continue to use them’ (18.93%) and ‘I have not used sunbeds in the past – and have now begun using them’ (17.63%).

[4]26.2% of respondents in Edinburgh and 24.48% in Glasgow said they either had used sunbeds in the past – and continue to use them or had not used sunbeds in the past – and have now begun using them.

[5]https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-One

[6]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 

[7]https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero 

[8]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/ 

[9]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 

[10]p.34 ‘The Scottish Melanoma Group studied 12,450 cases of invasive cutaneous melanoma diagnosed between 1979-2003. It reported a trebling of the incidence in males of all ages…Females had a 2.3-fold increase.’ https://www.scotphn.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2015_12_17-ScotPHN-Report-Skin-Cancer-1.pdf 

[11]https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer/incidence#heading-Zero 

[12]62.38% of UK respondents (and 66.49% of Scottish respondents) to the question Do you think that the use of sunbeds changes the risk of getting skin cancer? Said ‘Yes, it increases the risk. 14.96% said ‘Yes it decreases the risk’, 9.94% said ‘No, there is no change’ and 12.73% said they weren’t sure.

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

[14]Q7: 74.04% of sunbed users reported using sunbeds at least once per month and the remaining 25.95% saying they use them at least once a year. 22.02% use sunbeds once per week and 21.87% said they use sunbeds 2-3 days a week, 6.96% said 4-6 days a week and 2.64% said every day. 

[15]Q7: 72.53% of Scottish adults reported using sunbeds at least once per month. 43.68% said they used them at least once per week. 

Notes to editors:

  • The research was conducted by Censuswide with 2,003 nationally representative adults (16-65) between 15.03.2024 – 20.03.2024. Data has been weighted to nationally representative proportions on age, gender, region and ethnicity using ONS and Census data. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles and are members of The British Polling Council.
  • View the full data tables here

About Melanoma Focus:

  • Melanoma Focus is a national charity dedicated to providing a comprehensive and authoritative source of information for public and professionals alike, as well as supporting education and promoting research about melanoma.
  • Melanoma Focus runs a free and confidential helpline at 0808 801 0777