Over a third of Northern Irish adults are using sunbeds as skin cancer rates rise

  • New research shows that over a third of Northern Irish 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.
  • 37% of adults in Belfast use sunbeds.

New data released today by the charity Melanoma Focus has found that 28% of adults in the UK, and over a third of those in Northern Ireland (37%), 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 was followed by 35% in Norwich and 32% in Birmingham. [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. In Northern Ireland skin cancer rates have trebled in the last 25 years and there are now 390 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 59% of those in Northern Ireland) 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 higher in Northern Ireland at 78% and 63% 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.”

Katie McVeigh, aged 25 from Belfast, was diagnosed with melanoma in 2022. She said:

“I started using sunbeds when I was 16. I used them before going on holiday because I liked getting a ‘base-tan’ and it became a bit of a habit. I was probably using them twice a week before I was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. 

“I noticed a new mole on my face in 2022 so asked my GP about it, they referred me to a dermatologist and I ended up having it removed. I didn’t think it was anything serious but a few weeks after the operation I was called in and told that I had melanoma. I don’t remember much of the conversation but it was terrifying. I ended up having further surgery and then found out the cancer spread to my lymph nodes and I’m still having treatment now. It’s been really hard and has caused me a lot of anxiety. I’m a single parent to a four year old and I’d do anything to survive for her.

“Tanning salons are everywhere in Belfast, it’s quite scary when you think how dangerous they are.”

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.”

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 Northern Ireland, 37.30% 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]35.44% of respondents from in or near Norwich and 32.09% in or near Birmingham 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]https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/articles/sunbeds-policy

[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 58.86% of NI 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: 77.76% of NI adults reported using sunbeds at least once per month. 63.18% 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