Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, taking the lives of seven people each day1.
We know that the main preventable cause of skin cancer is UV exposure, so it’s troubling that people still seek natural tans by baking their skin. This includes the use of sunbeds, which have been classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The problem of sunbeds is well-known, but some people continue to use them and buy into their supposed benefits, whether that’s a pre-holiday base tan that helps to prevent sunburn, or a much-needed boost of vitamin D. The truth is, when you use a sunbed, there is no real benefit, but there is so much risk.
There is plenty of misinformation around sunbed use, much of which is shared by the sunbed businesses themselves. That’s why we’ve gathered together the real facts and figures, based on the recommendations from the professionals at the British Association of Dermatologists and British Photodermatology Group2, which you can share with your friends and family to encourage the avoidance of sunbeds and the daily use of sun protection.
The Sunbeds Regulation Act3 was introduced in 2010, making it illegal to allow anyone under the age of 18 to use a sunbed, with penalties of £20k or total shut down. The act applies to all devices that are designed to produce tanning through the emissions of UV radiation, including tanning booths, tanning beds and sun lamps. All businesses where these devices are available to use, such as salons, gyms and hotels, come under this act.
The truth is, sun damage in childhood increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, and sunbeds have been recognised as a key contributor to this problem. Unfortunately, some continue to allow under-18s to use sun beds4, putting children at risk.
Typically, the time spent on a sunbed is less than time spent outdoors in the sun. However, these short periods involve much higher doses, which further increase the risk of sun damage and skin cancer.
The European standard for UVR from sunbeds is 0.3 watts, stated to be the same as the Mediterranean sun. In fact, these levels are equivalent to tropical sunshine, which the World Health Organisation deems extreme. This is compounded by the fact that nine out of 10 sunbeds5 have been found to emit UV radiation that exceeds these recommended limits.
Even by staying within a recommended threshold, sunbed users still put their skin - and themselves - at risk. The truth is, the safest sunbed dosage is no dosage at all.
There’s a misconception that using sun protection can lead to vitamin D deficiency and other health issues. These concerns are unfounded; there is no proof that protecting our skin leads to vitamin D deficiency, and those who use daily sun protection can maintain healthy vitamin D levels6.
There are two key types of UV rays: UVB, and UVA. UVB rays are the ones that interact with a protein in your skin to convert it to vitamin D. Meanwhile, UVA rays lead to pigmentation and wrinkles. Sunbeds emit a mixture of UVB and UVA rays, so while you might think you’re gaining vitamin D benefits, you’re actually exposing yourself to skin damage and premature aging.
We know vitamin D has plenty of health benefits, including maintaining healthy bones, supporting the immune system, improving cardiovascular health and preventing cancer. But the truth is, we shouldn’t look to sunbeds for a boost of vitamin D. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)7 state that we only need to spend short periods of time in the sun, with only our arms, hands and legs exposed in order to create enough vitamin D. And when it’s cold and dark outside, we can eat fortified foods or take a daily supplement.
Base tans and burning
There is no such thing as a healthy tan, including a light, pre-holiday ‘base tan’ that might give you more confidence during those first few days on the beach. Though this extra colour might make you feel more protected, there is little evidence8 to support the idea that a base tan will protect you from burning at a later date.
The truth is, any level of tan is a manifestation of sun damage within the skin, whether that’s a light base tan or painful sunburn. A base tan is by no means a good substitute for using SPF, and a few sessions on the sunbed9 will not prevent you from burning in the real sun. In fact, they will further increase your risk of skin cancer10.
It’s never too late
Many people used sunbeds when they were younger and unaware of the risks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent any further damage. Start by wearing daily sun protection. If you’re concerned about historical sun damage and visible signs of ageing that you’re already experiencing, visit a skin specialist to discuss options. For more serious concerns, such as sinister areas of skin and mole checks, speak to your GP.
Taking care of your skin now can also help to reverse the visible signs of sun damage, including fine lines and pigmentation. The truth is, it’s never too late to protect your skin.
Embrace your natural skin tone
You might be under the impression that your skin is more attractive with a tan, and that a pale complexion suggests fatigue and ill health. In fact, paler skin is just as beautiful as darker skin, and is by no means washed-out or unhealthy. Whatever your natural skin tone, whether porcelain, gold or chocolate, you should embrace it and not feel pressure to modify it through dangerous means.
Of course, if you’re still keen to enhance your skin tone with a tan, consider a safe alternative. Fake tanning products and techniques have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and it’s now easy to create a natural-looking tan without streaks or patchiness. Whether you prefer a professional spray tan, gradual tanners or a tinted moisturiser, there’s a ‘fake’ product for everyone.
The truth is, you don’t need a tan to look healthy and beautiful. But if you do prefer a more glowy look, there are a variety of other products and methods you can use that are much better for your skin.
- Just one sunbed session can increase your risk of skin cancer11
- Women under 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they use sunbeds12
- People who don’t burn are more likely to get skin cancer if they use sunbeds13
- Other risks of sunbeds include burns, eye injuries and passing out14
- Sunbed use can lead to a serious tanning addiction15
While you steer clear of sunbeds, we also recommend that you use a daily sun protection to protect your skin from both sunlight and daylight. The Heliocare 360° range offers an option for all skin types and requirements, protecting your skin from sun damage, preventing premature skin ageing and reducing your risk of serious, skin-related health issues. Find out more about the Heliocare 360° products.
- 1British Skin Foundation. What is skin cancer? [online] Available at: http://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/SkinInformation/SkinCancer.aspx [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 2British Association of Dermatologists. Sunbeds. [online] Available at: http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/skin-cancer/sunbeds [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 3UK Parliament. Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010. [online] Available at: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2009-10/sunbedsregulation.html [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 4Nursing Times. (2014). Nearly 5% of under-18s have used sunbed illegally, finds poll. [online] Available at: https://www.nursingtimes.net/clinical-archive/public-health/nearly-5-of-under-18s-have-used-sunbed-illegally-finds-poll/5071739.article# [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 5Tierney P et al. (2013) Nine out of 10 sunbeds in England emit ultraviolet radiation levels that exceed current safety limits. Br J Dermatol. Jan;168(3):602-8.
- 6Farrerons J et al. (1998). Clinically prescribed sunscreen (sun protection factor 15) does not decrease serum vitamin D concentration sufficiently either to induce changes in parathyroid function or in metabolic markers. Br J Dermatol. Sep;139(3):422-7.
- 7National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2016) Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. [online] Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng34/chapter/1-Recommendations [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 8Harvard Health Publishing. 2017. The problem with tanning (and the myth of the base tan). [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/problem-tanning-myth-base-tan-2017041211528 [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 9Telegraph. 2017. Pre-tanning your skin before your beach holiday won’t help prevent sunburn, research suggests. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/base-tan-pre-tanning-sun-protection-sunburn/ [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 10Cancer Research UK. How do sunbeds cause skin cancer? [online] Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/how-do-sunbeds-cause-skin-cancer [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 11Cancer Research UK. (2012) Sunbeds cause skin cancer - the evidence is clear. [online] Available at: https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/07/27/sunbeds-cause-skin-cancer-the-evidence-is-clear/ [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 12American Academy of Dermatology. Dangers of indoors tanning. [online] Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 13Vogel RI et al. (2016) Exposure to indoor tanning without burning and melanoma risk by sunburn history. J Natl Cancer Inst. Jul 16;106(7). pii: dju219. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju219.
- 14Reuters. 2014. Indoor tanning can lead to burns, fainting, eye injuries. [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tanning-injuries-emergency/indoor-tanning-can-lead-to-burns-fainting-eye-injuries-idUSKBN0JT2CU20141215 [Accessed 05/07/2019].
- 15Sutherland N, Barber S. (2019) Health implications of sunbed use. House of Commons Library. p9.