- Sunbeds aren't a safe alternative to tanning outdoors. Like the sun, sunbeds give out harmful UV rays which damage the DNA in our skin cells and can cause skin cancer.
- Sunbeds are estimated to cause around 100 deaths from melanoma every year in the UK.
- Sunbeds also cause premature skin ageing, which means that your skin becomes coarse, leathery and wrinkled at a younger age. So when the tan fades, the damage remains.
People use sunbeds for all sorts of reasons. Here, we clear up a few of the most common myths.
Being tanned is not a sign of health
The simple fact that your skin has changed colour is a sign of damage. Without goggles, UV from sunbeds can also damage your eyes and lead to irritation, conjunctivitis and eye cancer.
Skin damage from sunbeds is just as big a problem for young people
You can't always see the damage that UV does straight away as it builds up gradually. But every time you use a sunbed you are damaging your skin, making it look worse in the long run. Using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by 59%. Surgical treatment for skin cancer can result in serious scarring.
Spending more time on sunbeds will not make your tan look any better
We each have our own tanning limits. No matter how much UV you receive there comes a point when your skin won't get any darker. Using sunbeds will make your skin coarse, leathery and wrinkled. Boosting your tan by having two sunbed sessions within 24 hours or after sunbathing is particularly harmful. Get your beauty sleep in your own bed, rather than on a sunbed.
Sunbed tanning is no safer than sun tanning
Sunbeds are not a 'safe' alternative to sun tanning. The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Like the sun, sunbeds give off UVA and UVB rays. While sunburn is mostly caused by UVB, both types of UV can cause DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer.
Modern sunbeds emit mostly UVA rays, but UVB rays can make up anywhere from 0.5-4% of their total output. These emissions can be comparable to the midday sun. And the amount of UVA given off can be 10-15 times higher than the midday sun. .
You cannot tan safely by building your sunbed tan gradually
Unfortunately, using sunscreen or limiting your time on a sunbed will not completely protect your skin from damage and ageing. In fact, short periods of intense, irregular UV exposure, like you get on a sunbed, are the fastest way to damage your skin.
A tan will not provide much protection from the sun on holiday
A tan offers very limited protection from sunlight or burning. At most, a sunbed tan is the equivalent to a sunscreen with SPF of just 2-4. Not enough to keep you safe in the sun. And if you don't tan easily in the sun, you won't tan easily on a sunbed.
You don't need to burn to get a tan
Burning or going red under a sunbed is a sign that you have seriously harmed your skin. UV can penetrate deep into the skin's layers and damage the DNA in our skin cells. Cells damaged by UV are at greater risk of mutating and then dividing uncontrollably, which is what happens in cancer.
You don't need a sunbed to produce vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for good health. Our bodies make the vitamin when our skin is exposed to UV rays and it is also present in certain foods. You only need short exposures to the sun to produce adequate amounts. So you don’t need a sunbed to get your vitamins! For more information see our vitamin D page.
People with fair skin that tends to burn are at higher risk of problems from sunbed use than those with darker skin. Young people also have delicate skin and are more likely to damage it by using sunbeds.
You should NEVER use a sunbed if you:
- are under 18
- have fair or freckly skin
- burn easily
- have a lot of moles
- have had skin cancer in the past
- have a family history of skin cancer
- are using medication that increases your sensitivity to UV.
Cancer Research UK was commissioned by the National Cancer Action Team, supported by the Department of Health, to explore the extent and patterns of sunbed use among children in England. Some of the main findings of the research (published in the British Medical Journal, March 2010) included:
- More than one quarter of a million children aged 11-17 are risking their health by using sunbeds.
- In England, on average, six per cent of 11-17 year olds use sunbeds.
- In Liverpool and Sunderland 50 per cent of 15-17 year-old girls use sunbeds, and more than two in five use sunbeds at least once a week.
The full paper – together with all questionnaires and pilot study data – is available to download from the Cancer Stats pages of the Cancer Research UK website.
Cancer Research UK recommends that anyone with fair skin, lots of moles or a family history of skin cancer or anyone under the age of 18 avoids using sunbeds.
At the beginning of 2010, we worked with Julie Morgan, the previous MP for Cardiff North, and Sian James MP and Baroness Finlay to campaign for legislation to address this problem. After an intense campaign with lots of meetings, letters and emails from our supporters, and an appearance in Parliament by Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts, the hard work paid off when just four months later MPs passed the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act that restricts the use of sunbeds to over 18s.
The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act came into force on April 8th 2011 to help protect the most vulnerable by stopping under 18s from accessing sunbeds. This legislation is an important first step to help turn the tide of skin cancer in the UK.
Check out our blog post for more information.